03/14/2013 at 10:49am EDT
Pavel Datsyuk turns 36 on July 20th, 2014. That birthday will be celebrated a few months after the last minutes of hockey he'll ever play for the Detroit Red Wings. Next year will be his last in the NHL and that's according to a very reliable source in Detroit, someone close to the organization and entrenched in regional hockey programs.
Why? Datsyuk wants to go home. We all understand that. But according to this source, a guy who skates with at least one recently-retired Red Wing and whose family is a staple in the Michigan hockey world, it's not just the lure of mother Russia.
Datsyuk sees the realignment, knows the kind of nightly abuse he's going to take in the Eastern Conference and wants to "go out like Barry Sanders did." Healthy, in other words. And he wants to give the KHL a few years of brilliance. He wants his home country to see him while he still has magic left.
Interesting comparison to Barry Sanders isn't it? Are you thinking about it? If not...go ahead. A few similarities. Health, retirement at an early age, a career of brilliance in Detroit.
And stubborn coaches who refuse to budge, even if it means hamstringing their best players--and the team at the same time.
Barry Sanders left because of his relationship, or lack thereof, with Bobby Ross.
Pavel Datsyuk hasn't scored a goal in 12 games. He's had Justin Abdelkader on his wing since February 17th. Datsyuk hasn't had a primary assist on an even strength goal scored by a forward since the day that line (with Dan Cleary up until last night, now with Johan Franzen) was formed. It's unfathomable. It's disgusting. And it's all on Mike Babcock.
I get it. I get the desire to go home. Loyalty's a powerful drug. And it's admirable. Everything about Datsyuk is admirable. Many of us wouldn't have been surprised if he'd elected to stay in Russia after Gary Bettman's third work stoppage, the second Datsyuk's had to endure. If he'd stayed, not a single one of us would have begrudged him because he loves his country just as we love ours. Patriotism. Nationalism. It's a strong pull for those who feel it. And he does.
The Eastern Conference thing. Got that too. Primeau. Lindros. Crosby. Malkin. Pronger. Five big names from two different eras. All of them fuzzy from concussions. All in the East. Yes. The Western Conference has its share. Corey Perry's making sure of that. But the East is a rougher conference. Always has been. Datsyuk isn't scared of it. We've seen him give back. But he wants to be sure the Russian people see him at his best, if only for one or two seasons.
He'll take that abuse next year and he won't complain one bit. He's taking a different sort this year and saying nothing. Literally. When's the last time you saw a quote from him, a funny clip, a post-game interview. You haven't. Not in at least a month. Nik Kronwall, in case you haven't noticed, is the voice of this team. And that's fine. But Datsyuk has fallen silent.
On the ice and off, that is. And that's on Mike Babcock. He has silenced the most offensively gifted player to ever wear the Winged Wheel. It's deplorable and it's an offense that should lead to his dismissal.
You have about 100 games of Pavel Datsyuk left. Don't blame him. He's going home. If it pisses you off, turn your attention to the guys with the nice hair and the suits. One has let a team disintegrate without replacing or even offsetting big-name departures, and the other has somehow done what the rest of the league's never been able to accomplish: he's shut Datsyuk down.