What do you do when your star player wants to play in the Olympics even though he’s banged up and just coming back from an injury? The Detroit Red Wings can’t do anything.
Pavel Datsyuk has had an injury laden season to say the least. The Wings’ star forward has missed a total of 21 games in 2013-14 so far. Pav returned to action last Thursday against the Florida Panthers and was given 13 minutes of ice time to test out his injury. Datsyuk had been injured since the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, so it was nice to see him back in a Wings’ sweater, but at what cost? Some are worrying that he forced himself into NHL action as a warmup of sorts so he could be medically cleared to play in the Olympic Games.
With the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Russia, Datsyuk’s homeland, the tournament means a lot to him. Pavel has accomplished everything imaginable in the NHL, however he has yet to reach the top in international play, and to do it on home soil would be special.
In his two pre-Olympic appearances, Datsyuk did not look as fleet of foot as he usually does but that is to be expected having suffered a “lower body” injury, which we can only assume means a foot contusion. However, he still had that Datsyukian ability that makes fans and players alike drool over his game.
But is the Detroit front office really willing to let a 70 percent healthy Datsyuk travel to Sochi and risk reinjuring himself, thus putting the club’s historical playoff streak at risk as well? Well it doesn’t really matter, as the Wings had no say in the matter. The NHL Players’ Association had it written into the new collective bargaining agreement that it is the player’s option when it comes to international play.
Upon arriving in Sochi, Datsyuk sat out the first of two practices to give his injury some more time to heal. This sent the talking heads into a frenzy, questioning if this decision was the right one and additionally if Pavel was being selfish and forgetting that the Red Wings cut his paychecks. Players often compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs with significant injuries. Detroit’s famed captain, Steve Yzerman played through an entire playoffs on one leg! Patrice Bergeron had a hole in his lung during the Bruins failed Cup run last year. Why is the hockey community viewing this situation in a different light?
The Red Wings are clearly concerned about Datsyuk’s decision. General Manager Ken Holland, also working with the front office of Hockey Canada, said in an interview today that “He’s probably been preparing for this tournament for five or six years when it was announced that it was coming to Russia. I’m sure if he couldn’t play, he won’t play. Is he 100 percent? Probably not, but there are probably other players in this tournament who aren’t 100 percent.” Mike Babcock came out and basically restated what Holland did, saying that there is no way Datsyuk is completely healthy.
However, Datsyuk is apparently not willing to hear any of their opinions. Datsyuk has been doing line rushes with Illya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov for Team Russia. Both of these characters decided to spurn the NHL and head to the KHL for greener (money loaded) pastures. This week, Datsyuk came out with some fighting words of his own saying that “Everything’s fine. My injury does not bother me at all. Babcock is not my concern right now.” Tonight, Datsyuk and his Russian teammates will open their first round play against Slovenia.
Detroit fans are wishing for a healthy Pavel throughout the Olympics, and hopefully the bickering between both sides stops when the NHL resumes play in a few weeks. If his injury worsens or if the mild spat between the Wings and Datsyuk were to heat up, it could be an interesting spring in Hockeytown as the Wings strive for a 23rd consecutive playoff berth.