Pavel Datsyuk’s career has been a treat to the eyes of Wings fans. The slick dangles. The Datsyukian Deke. The collection of opponents’ jockstraps hanging in the rafters.
Three Selke Trophies, two Stanley Cups, and to his credit, four Lady Byng awards as a consummate gentleman (and don’t disregard that award amid an intense sport that typically turns a nice guy into a ref-yelling jerk).
Datsyuk (767 points) just passed Ted Lindsay (728) and Norm Ullman (758) on the Wings’ all-time franchise list for points.
But here is the sad news: He should be well beyond them at this point for three reasons.
Datsyuk’s career stats have suffered through two work stoppages. He’s been shafted out of 116 games – yes, 116 games – thanks to a year-long lockout in 2004-’05 and the subtraction of 34 games in 2012-13.
He’s averaged nearly a point per game in his career, so it’s fair to say he’s lost 110 points, at least.
2.) DEFENSIVE RESPONSIBILITY
We contend that if Datsyuk was placed into a highly-concentrated offensive system, he would’ve produced 100-plus points every year between the fall of 2005 and the spring of 2009. Maybe beyond that in years and points. Hey, he’s demanded to spend a considerable amount of time deep inside his own zone. Look at his Selke Trophies.
But imagine if Datsyuk was selfish and concentrated solely on offense. Imagine if he was born in the same era with Gretzky, Lemieux and Yzerman, and faced those dinky goalie pads that were actually the size of a human’s legs and torso, instead of today’s sizes that resemble an inflated sumo wrestler.
Yes, you can make that latter point for any player in today’s generation. But how many of them have Datsyuk’s abilities?
3.) USED SELDOMLY EARLY
Datsyuk was a third-liner during his rookie year in 2001-02. He played 13:39 minutes per game on a team loaded with future Hall of Famers such as Yzerman, Shanahan, Fedorov, Hull, Larionov and Robitaille.
“Pavel was so good right off the bat,” Yzerman told the Detroit Free Press via Kulka’s Korner. “Had we needed him to, he could have played a lot more than he did. He was phenomenal.”
Yet, in 2002-03, Datsyuk still played just 15:28 a game.
Finally, with an increase in ice time by nearly three minutes in the 2003-04 season, Datsyuk had 30 goals and 38 assists.
Datsyuk, 35, has four years left on his contract. When it expires at age 39, maybe he’ll head back to Russia. Or, maybe he’ll play another year or two. It’s possible he will keep playing in Detroit, given the recent longevity of NHL stars such as Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom. We will wait and see.
The next guy in Datsyuk’s view on the all-time franchise list? Sergei Fedorov, whose 954 points rank fifth.
Can you imagine if Datsyuk finishes as the highest-producing Russian in Wings history? Would you have ever thought – back in 2002, when Datsyuk was a rookie – that he would pass a player as gifted as Fedorov?
It will likely happen: Datsyuk trails Sergei by 187 points.
But it’s sad to know that he could be within striking distance right now as the season approaches. Ugh, those 116 missed games! Just painful. We will forgive the lack of ice time on a team full of stars, and his defensive responsibilities in a two-way-player system is beyond understood, but add it all together, and Datsyuk’s point total takes an unfair hit.
There is a chance, of course, that he produces back-to-back 97-point seasons like 2007-08 and 2008-09, then sticks around long enough to pass Nicklas Lidstrom (1,142 points). You can never underestimate the capability of those magical hands, right? And there’s this: Datsyuk is arguably the best conditioned Red Wing, which means he could very well play into his low 40s.
Regardless, Wings fans should cherish his final years. We will not see such a dynamic player of his rare abilities for ages. It would just make it more special if he finished within the top four of all-time Wings leaders.