BUFFALO, N. Y. – Phew!
You could almost see the relief billowing out of Ken Holland after the Red Wings unloaded Pavel Datsyuk’s $7.5 million salary cap hit in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes during the first round of the NHL draft Friday night.
The deal was a win-win for both clubs, but especially for the Red Wings, who now have the flexibility to be buyers when the free-agency market opens next Friday.
“I had some deals that I thought I could make on July 1 if I wanted but there was gonna be a price, a steeper price associated with this,” Holland admitted. “They were excited because a player fell that they had rated higher and it all came to be. So obviously we’re thrilled that we got Pav moved, that we have the $7.5 million of space and now tomorrow the interview period starts. So we’ll try to reach out to some people.”
If Holland was unable to move the final year of Datsyuk’s contract, it would have counted toward Detroit’s $73 million salary cap for the 2016-17 season. Datsyuk announced last Saturday that he would not finish the final year of his three-year contract with the Red Wings. The Russian star plans to return home to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.
The cost of dumping Datsyuk’s contract on the draft floor at First Niagara Center wasn't as expensive as many hockey analysts initially thought it would be. Detroit traded down four spots in the opening round, surrendering the No. 16 overall pick for the Coyotes’ second first-round selection at No. 20. The Wings also received Arizona’s second-round pick, No. 53 overall, and veteran center Joe Vitale.
Asked what he’ll do with the $7.5 million, Holland said, “hopefully spend it.”
“For the most part we’re looking at forwards,” he added. “Obviously Pavel Datsyuk’s gone, so obviously we’ll be looking at forwards.”
With the No. 20 pick, the Red Wings selected 6-foot-1 defenseman Dennis Cholowski, of Langley, British Columbia. He’s the first defenseman taken by the Wings in the first round since Brendan Smith was picked at No. 27 overall in 2007.
Meanwhile, the Coyotes were able to nab a player they coveted – defenseman Jakob Chychrun, who tumbled from his top-10 rating a year ago.
“I’d say it’s extenuating circumstances,” Arizona GM John Chayka said. “Everyone wants to look at it that we have to get to the cap floor but it’s not the case at all. We’re just using our assets. Everyone else uses an asset of cash to get up and get players and we’ve got cap space so why not use that to get players that we like?”
The two GMs each claimed victory, saying the deal was ideal for both clubs.
“A deal has to be win-win,” Holland said. “Obviously they had a player that was rated in the top 10 a year ago. They obviously got Pav’s cap space, we’re obviously taking Joe Vitale and we got an extra second-round pick for moving back four spots. It was a deal that both teams are obviously happy with.”
Chayka added, “call me a selfish guy, I’m just looking at what’s on my side of the table, I mean, if I was battling for a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings next year would I have made the trade? Probably not but that’s not the case.”
Holland said over the last week, he had a few phone conversations with the 27-year-old Chayka about trading Datsyuk’s cap space. But the deal only came together after the Carolina Hurricanes made their pick at No. 13.
“We were throwing around some different ideas and as we got into the draft about pick 13, Johnnie called me,” Holland said. “There was a player falling, obviously Chychrun that they were excited about. The deal came to me.”
As for Vitale, who hasn’t played since he suffered a fractured orbital bone and a concussion in a fight with Boston’s Kevin Millar last October, Chayka told reporters that he doesn’t expected the 30-year-old to play in the upcoming season.
Holland said he’ll check on Vitale’s health but if he’s still experiencing post-concussion symptoms, the Wings’ GM said, he can join Johan Franzen on long-term injured reserve.