It will be another two weeks, at the very least, before Pavel Datsyuk has officially made his decision about his future with the Detroit Red Wings. But according to Datsyuk’s agent, the decision won’t come without Datsyuk taking into account what his leaving for the KHL could mean for the Red Wings’ immediate future.
One of the biggest concerns about Datsyuk, 37, leaving for the KHL is what will happen should the Red Wings not find a trade partner to take on his $7.5-million salary for next season.
The contract Datsyuk signed with Detroit in June 2013 came following the star pivot’s 35th birthday, which means that even if Datsyuk were to retire, the cap hit would remain. And though the contract comes off the books before the 2017-18 season, it’s not something the Red Wings can realistically afford heading into the upcoming campaign if the ‘Magic Man’ won’t be in their lineup. Datsyuk, and his agent, Dan Milstein, have acknowledged that.
"He would like to leave, but at the same time, he wants to make sure the Wings have options," Milstein told the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James. "He wants to help the team any way he can with the salary cap issue.”
One of the ways Datsyuk could aid the Red Wings and Detroit GM Ken Holland would be helping to facilitate a trade between the only NHL club Datsyuk has known and a team that needs to take on an additional cap hit to reach the salary floor.
This past season, the minimum cap hit allowable for teams was $52.8 million, but with the upper-limit of the cap possibly rising as much as $3 million, there’s potential for the floor to rise at roughly the same rate. Even a modest rise of $1.5 million could set the floor upwards of $53 million, which would put a few teams in potential need of a contract to boost their overall cap hit.
Per CapFriendly, the end-of-season rosters of the Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils have an estimated cap hit below $50 million for next season, meaning each of the three clubs could potentially use Datsyuk’s $7.5-million contract to reach the salary floor next season. The Calgary Flames are also in that boat, but have to take care of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Joe Colborne and Josh Jooris this off-season, as well as land a starting netminder. That takes them out of the running for Datsyuk. And, really, the Devils are in a similar situation with their free agents, making the Coyotes and Hurricanes the most obvious landing spots for Datsyuk if the contract is dealt.
The Coyotes’ final roster has an estimated $32.75-million cap hit next season with at least a dozen roster spots to fill. Only eight players currently have a cap hit in the millions, and that includes Chris Pronger, whose contract is similar to Datsyuk’s in that it’s a 35-plus deal. Pronger hasn’t played since the 2011-12 season. The Coyotes have notoriously floated around the low-end of the salary cap and that’s likely to be the case next season, meaning Datsyuk’s deal could give an artificial boost to their cap number.
Carolina is also below $40 million in estimated cap hit for 2016-17, with CapFriendly putting the Hurricanes at $36.96 million with only 14 players from last season confirmed to be coming back. GM Ron Francis’ roster is in a state of transition and the Hurricanes, who have been struggling to fill their building, could keep their budget low by retooling from within and sticking around the salary floor. Datsyuk’s contract would alleviate the need to spend big money in free agency.
No matter who takes on the deal — should Holland decide to move the contract, which he should if Datsyuk doesn’t return — the pot will likely need to be sweetened, and both Carolina and Arizona could benefit from taking on prospect or draft pick in addition to the Russian center’s contract. And should Datsyuk choose to head home, a throw-in prospect or pick wouldn’t be the worst price for the Red Wings to pay to get the $7.5-million cap hit off the books heading into next season.