Pavel Datsyuk’s official announcement that he’ll be leaving the Red Wings and returning to the KHL has left Detroit in a tight spot when it comes to the salary cap, and there may be no relief in sight.
Because Datsyuk inked a 35-plus contract and has one year remaining on his deal, the $7.5-million cap hit will remain in effect. Effectively, that means the Red Wings will have a $7.5 million penalty in place for a player not on their roster. As far as the cap goes, it matters not that Datsyuk chose to depart.
However, the belief was the Red Wings would attempt to clear the cap space by dealing Datsyuk’s contract to a team in need of a boost to reach the salary cap floor. The Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes and New Jersey Devils have done this in the past few seasons, with the Panthers and Devils taking on the contact of long-retired forward Marc Savard and the Coyotes acquiring the contract of defenseman Chris Pronger, who hasn’t played since 2011-12.
Trading the cap hit would likely be the best move for the Red Wings, but NHL.com's Nick Cotsonika reported that Red Wings GM Ken Holland said he’s “not overly optimistic” about the chances of trading Datsyuk’s $7.5 million cap hit. That’s bad news for the Red Wings, to put it lightly.
The Red Wings have only $11 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly, and some significant holes up front, on defense and a pair of major restricted free agents to sign in defenseman Danny DeKeyser and goaltender Petr Mrazek. It’s only an estimation, but signing both could cost as much as $9 million. That would leave the Red Wings with little money to add through free agency.
Detroit finished with the league’s eighth-worst goals for at a scant 209 tallies in 2015-16 and the Red Wings’ clear need for more offensive talent is exacerbated by Datsyuk’s departure. Datsyuk's return to the KHL leaves a glaring hole in the top six, one which can’t be filled immediately by any of the up-and-coming talent. Maybe a player can grow into the role in a few seasons, but in the meantime the Red Wings could have added a stop-gap by inking a free agent. That won’t be the case unless Holland gets Datsyuk’s deal off the books.
It’s not that trading the contract is impossible — Holland said some teams have shown interest in acquiring the cap hit, per NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika — but Holland’s unwillingness to get rid of the deal by sacrificing picks or prospects will undoubtedly make it much more difficult to find a team willing to take on the cap hit. Consider that in order to relieve themselves of Bryan Bickell’s $4-million cap hit, the Chicago Blackhawks had to sweeten the deal by adding in talented youngster Teuvo Teravainen and it’s evident what the price may be for Holland to ship out the Datsyuk deal.
Holland said, matter-of-factly, that he won’t be trading any of the Red Wings’ prospects to help along a trade, though. According to WXYZ Detroit’s Kacie Hollins, Holland said trading one of the prospects — such as Anthony Mantha — is “not even a conversation.”
Trade or not — and with a buyout unlikely, according to Hollins — how the Red Wings maneuver around Datsyuk’s departure will be fascinating. While Holland repeatedly said he harbored no ill will towards Datsyuk, but there’s no doubt the Russian star’s decision hurts on-ice and off-ice and Detroit may have to get creative in order to find some form of relief.