Datsyuk signed a US$46.9-million, seven-year contract extension Friday, giving up a shot at free agency to remain the club’s offensive centrepiece.
With the threat of his arrival on the open market looming July 1, the Red Wings decided that signing Datsyuk was crucial, particularly in the salary cap era.
His salary averages out to $6.7 million per season for cap purposes.
“If he leaves this summer … we’re going to probably spend more money on a player that we don’t like as much as Pavel,” said Steve Yzerman, Datsyuk’s former teammate and current team vice-president. “You really have to be certain and really know your player.
“And if you believe in them tie them up. We believe in Pavel.”
For good reason.
The 28-year-old Russian dazzles on the ice with his speed, shifty moves and vision to spot open teammates. This season, during which he’s earning $3.9 million, he leads the Wings with 27 goals and 60 assists in 78 games.
He also led the Red Wings in scoring last season with 28 goals and 59 assists, when he won the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player and represented Russia at the Olympics.
“Pavel really wanted to commit here for his career,” general manager Ken Holland said of the longest contract extension in team history. “In the end we felt very comfortable with a long-term commitment to Pavel.
“We think that Pavel is coming into the prime of his career.”
Retaining Datsyuk allows the Red Wings to keep a dominant offensive presence on the top line reminiscent of Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov (before he left after the 2002-03 season).
While he’s not yet at that level yet, Datsyuk has helped keep Detroit among the NHL’s elite this year despite Yzerman’s retirement and Brendan Shanahan’s departure, among other roster turnover.
“Everyone in the organization wanted him to stay with us,” said team owner Mike Ilitch.
Yzerman agreed: “We felt it was extremely important to lock this player up for as long as we can.”
The Wings clinched their sixth straight Central Division earlier this week and one more point will secure their third consecutive Western Conference title, the first of the post-Yzerman era.
“This contract was extremely important to me,” Datsyuk said. “Especially since I have been a Red Wing since 2001.”
The move also underscored the team’s time-honoured tradition of doggedly scouting far-flung talent – in Datsyuk’s case, Russia’s Siberia region – and reinvesting in proven performers.
Datsyuk won the Stanley Cup during his rookie season in 2001-02 and broke out in 2003-04, when he set a career-high with 30 goals.
A big test for him will come in the playoffs. He struggled in last year’s first-round loss to Edmonton, posting a disappointing three assists in six games.