By now every Red Wing fan has celebrated in their own way at the news that Pavel Datsyuk has agreed to a 3-year extension to stay in Detroit.
That Red Wing fans were ecstatic about this announcement should come as no surprise. Since joining the club in 2001-02, Datsyuk has failed to eclipse the 50-point mark exactly twice: as a rookie and this past season when the season was only 48 games. He is a three-time Selke Trophy winner as the league's best defensive forward, joining Bob Gainey, Guy Carbonneau and Jere Lehtinen as the only players to have won the award at least three times.
However, in the quiet moments when the rational voice in my head becomes very noticeable, I have to admit that it's not the perfect deal.
There's always inherent risk in signing a 35 year old player to a multi-year extension (Datsyuk will be 35 prior to the start of next season). Despite Datsyuk's very good production the last few years, there are a number of studies that show production declines once a player hits 30, albeit at lower rates than in years past. However, math and conventional wisdom suggests that a player's offensive production will be lower post-35 than in years past, and that is a possibility with Datsyuk.
That's not to say that Datsyuk will see his offensive numbers go down. He has been at or just below a point-per-game pace in 7 of the 8 seasons since the last lockout, including 49 points in 47 games this past season. There has been nothing in his actual performance to suggest that his level of play will suddenly see a sharp decline, but the possibility does exist.
I would have liked the cap hit to be lower. Yes, we all know how amazing and special and wonderful Datsyuk is; there won't be many bigger fans of his than myself. However, the cap is going down significantly next year, and when Pavel's deal kicks in, it's unclear what the salary cap will look like. After the 2013-14 season (before Datsyuk's deal kicks in), the Wings will have the following players hitting free agency: Mikael Samuelsson, Todd Bertuzzi, Patrick Eaves, Tomas Tatar, Cory Emmerton, Kyle Quincey, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jonathan Ericsson, Danny DeKeyser, and Jonas Gustavsson. Tatar, Emmerton and DeKeyser will all be restricted free agents, but the rest will all be unrestricted and the Wings will have to make a lot of decisions. The only player on that list that would be a "must-sign" for me is Ericsson, but given the uncertainty of what the cap will be combined with that many players to sign means that Datsyuk's cap hit could be a bit of an issue.
None of this is meant to suggest I feel the deal is a bad one. There are far more positives than negatives regarding Datsyuk's extension, first and foremost being that they have ensured their best forward will remain on the team for 3 additional years. The only year in which he did not finish either first or second on the Wings in scoring was 2010 when he missed 26 games due to injuries. He remains the focal point of the offense and draws the toughest opponents of anyone on the team.
Combine that with his great defensive ability. As noted, he's a 3-time Selke winner and has been nominated multiple times. Both his traditional and advanced stats confirm that he is a player who drives possession and can play at both ends of the ice. The only players on the team who could be considered more important on the team are Henrik Zetterberg and Jimmy Howard.
This doesn't even take into account the highlights he's produced over the years. Go to Youtube and search "Pavel Datsyuk" and prepare to have your productivity at work crash and burn. I've spent more time than I'd care to admit just watching video after video of plays that I've seen so many times I don't need to watch them on a computer.
Beyond what Datsyuk himself does, there are other reasons why this signing is a very good one for Detroit. The word that I'm sure everyone is sick of to describe this past season was "transition", but Datsyuk's extension ensures that the change over in personnel can take its time, rather than be rushed like a traditional rebuild. Datsyuk and Zetterberg, assuming that they remain the productive players they have been the past 3-4 seasons, can remain the main contributors offensively on a team that expects to get much younger in the next couple of years. Players like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Martin Frk, Calle Jarnkrok and Teemu Pulkkinen should all see time with the Wings in the next few years, but none of them will be required to carry the offense as long as Datsyuk and Zetterberg are around. That's important because, even though there are many who think it's time for the Wings to abandon their philosophy of over-developing players in Grand Rapids, this allows those players to grow into their roles on the team without the pressure of having to be the primary offensive contributors before they're ready.
Despite Datsyuk's relatively high cap hit, this means that young players should get an opportunity to get in the lineup because the Wings will have to get players in who are on inexpensive entry-level deals. We've wanted to see these prospects for years to see what they can do at the NHL level, and we should get that chance as the young guns prove to the coaching staff and management that they're ready to take the next step in their careers.
To me this feels like 2005-07 all over again. The Red Wings moved away from the Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov team to the new core, and never missed a beat. That was a slow process where players like Datsyuk and Zetterberg were allowed to grow into their roles on the team and assume more responsibility as they became better players, and it appears to be happening all over again.
At the end of the day, the Pavel Datsyuk signing is a great move for the Red Wings. They've locked up their best player until the end of his career, and he can be a guide for the new generation of Wing talent as they earn their spot on the team and become the new leaders of this franchise. Plus, this means that I get 4 more years of avoiding tear stains on my #13 jersey.