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Heading home

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Pavel Datsyuk told his Euro Twin, Henrik Zetterberg, of his plans to return to Russia. Datsyuk finished his NHL career with 314 goals, 604 assists and a plus-249 in 953 games. (Photo by Getty Images)

ORCHARD LAKE, Mich. -- It was an agonizing decision but in the end, Pavel Datsyuk decided it was time to return home and the Red Wings agreed to let him go.

Datsyuk, who turns 38 on July 20, made it official Saturday after the morning session at his PD13 Skills Development Camp at Orchard Lake St. Mary's School in Orchard Lake, Mich.

"This time when I come back after lockout year (2012-13), I really, my mind is kind of, I want to go home, I want to go home," Datsyuk said. "This time also I want to keep playing here. This time I think I just can't hold my mind, be OK with another three years but as it goes farther and farther, it make it harder and harder. Now I just think it's not fair and heading back home."

For the Wings and general manager Ken Holland, it's a bittersweet time.

"His heart’s not in Detroit, his heart’s not in the National Hockey League, so I’m trying to manage the situation as best I can," Holland said Saturday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena.

Dan Milstein, Datsyuk's agent, said family concerns were the big factor in the decision.

"It's been extremely difficult, ever since he came back from the lockout year," Milstein said. "We've talked quite a bit about it and it's been concerning. He has a daughter (Elizabeth) from his first marriage who is 13 years old and he only gets to see her for a couple months out of the year so it's been very difficult on him and it's just time to go home, like he said."

Although Datsyuk's NHL career is over once he signs the voluntary retirement papers, that doesn't mean he doesn't have some wonderful memories.

"I just remember in 1998 when I come for kids’ camp (development camp)," Datsyuk said. "And Ken Holland take me and (Yuri) Butsayev (1997 second-round pick) and we stopped into Joe Louis Arena. It’s an empty building and he said, ‘If you have more heart, probably you will play here.' That’s my first memory.

"The second one was when (former assistant general manager) Jim Nill picked me up at the airport when I attended my first training camp. This is my first year. I have a really big study there. It was a team where you could learn from anybody there. It’s big learning, of course it was Scotty (Bowman) who give me a good chance, big chance, believed in me and give me more belief in myself."

When Datsyuk signed the three-year contract, his agent at the time, Gary Greenstin, had asked Holland for a five-year deal, believing it was Datsyuk's desire to retire as a Red Wing.

Holland met with Datsyuk and said he felt a three-year contract would be the best for both parties.

But a week into the 2014-15 season, the first year of the deal, Datsyuk told Holland that season would be his last in the NHL.

That season, Datsyuk also changed agents from Greenstin to Milstein.

"We convinced him to come back for the '15-16 season because I said to Pav and Dan Milstein last summer, If you’re going to leave – and you can never stop a player from retiring – but if you think you’re going to just go back home and play in the KHL for the '15-16 and '16-17 seasons, we’re going to do everything we can through the NHL to see if we can stop you from playing in the KHL," Holland said. "He didn’t really want that and obviously we wanted him in the lineup. We convinced him to play the '15-16 season but the understanding, I guess, was if he came back for the '15-16 season and he didn’t want to be here anymore, his heart was not here anymore and he wanted to go home, we’re going to let him go home."

Datsyuk, who said he made his final decision after going on vacation after playing for Team Russia in the world championships, was asked about how difficult a decision it was to make.

"You are trying to make me cry here," Datsyuk said. "The more you ask me these questions, the more hard on me. It's very hard, especially when you have fun there and enjoy this time. It's hard to leave here."

Now the hard part falls to Holland, who will try to trade Datsyuk's cap space to a team that needs to reach the required cap floor.

There aren't too many teams in that situation.

"I'm not overly optimistic," Holland said. "Teams are obviously looking for lots of future assets and I understand that there's a price to be paid to try to free up the cap space but if it's going to be one of our top young players or a high draft pick, I don't know that it makes a whole lot of sense."

Holland said that he would not even consider trading any of the Wings' top prospects such as Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha.

Realistically, if the Wings are going to trade the cap space, a deal would have to be done before free agency starts on July 1.

"I think if we don’t trade him between now and July 1, the very best free agents on July 1, they’re probably going to be gone by July 2, July 3 at the long end," Holland said. "If this doesn’t happen by the end of June. If we get to July 5-6-7, it’s not going to make any sense. It makes the most sense that if there is a deal to be made, it’s got to be made between now and the end of June."

If there is no deal that makes sense, Holland said the Wings would just live with Datsyuk's $7.5 million cap hit.

"We think we can put a team on that's going to be young, we think it's going to be competitive but certainly you're going to be compromised by having 7.5 million dollars tied up in a player that you don't have," Holland said. "This is a huge loss, it's a huge hole and it's a very, very difficult situation."

While Holland tries to trade the cap space and perhaps make other trades, in addition to preparing for next weekend's draft, Datsyuk will soon be fielding offers from KHL teams.

Milstein said Datsyuk has several offers already but has not seen them yet. The two plan to meet after the end of Datsyuk's skills camp next Tuesday.

Datysuk said he does plan to return to Detroit and hopes to hold his PD13 skills development camp in the area every year.

As for the Wings, they still feel they got more than they could have ever hoped for from a sixth-round draft pick who grew into a star and a champion.

"I'd like to thank Pav for 14 great seasons, 950 games and a little over 900 points," Holland said. "He helped us win the Stanley Cup in '02 and '08, brought people out of their seats, one of the best two-way players in the league during his time. Great leader, great role model, so certainly Pav was a wonderful player for a long time. I don’t have any hard feelings.

"He was an incredible Red Wing."

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