Pavel Datsyuk is currently the best player on the Red Wings.
I've heard that opening with a provocative statement is a way to draw people in to a story, but there's nothing bold or controversial about that opening sentence. The retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom has left Pavs as the man wearing the "I'm #1" hat in the Red Wings' locker room.
I say that with a gentle nod to Henrik Zetterberg, who is a fantastic player. But at the end of the day, for me, Datsyuk is just better in about every way to Hank.
The NHL lockout trudges on, so we're left to predict and prognosticate on what is going to happen once NHL hockey returns. I certainly can't keep writing about the lockout because it makes me weepy and want to do terrible things like kick my dog or interact with Blues fans.
So with little to talk about besides HRR and revenue sharing, we're forced to amuse ourselves by looking forward and guessing on what might happen.
About 2 weeks ago, a Maple Leaf fan popped over to our neck of the woods and posed an interesting question: if half or an entire season were lost due to a labor stoppage, would Red Wing fans consider the possibility of trading Pavel Datsyuk?
As one might expect, the initial reaction by a lot of people was "No", with the occasional "Fuck no" or "stop doing drugs because it's bad for you" thrown in to emphatically make their point. This would be very similar to asking whether Steve Yzerman or Lidstrom should be traded. We're talking about a lifelong Red Wing who is also a bonafide NHL superstar. A guy who is universally respected throughout the league both for his on-ice talent and off-ice personality. A man who makes the Red Wings better simply by being in the lineup every day.
Consider that in the last 2 years, Datsyuk has missed 38 games due to various injuries and ailments. The Wings record in those 38 games is a very mediocre 15-19-4, which over the course of an 82-game season translates to about 74 points. He is the Wings' most important offensive weapon, a 3-time Selke winner as best defensive forward, and has the ability to change the entire complexion of a game with one of his signature dangles.
On top of all of that, Red Wing fans are used to seeing their superstars spend their entire careers in Detroit. There's a natural feeling that players like Datsyuk, Yzerman, Lidstrom, etc will never leave, either because they are traded or of their own free will. Even less widely-known players such as Tomas Holmstrom will never know what it's like to wear another NHL team's jersey. As a result, we feel closer to these players than the typical fan.
So when Wing fans are asked whether a superstar should be traded, it's almost instinct to shoot the idea down. But is it so crazy to consider a world where Pavel Datsyuk is traded?
However, should the Red Wings not play a single game in 2012-13 and he does not burn a year off of his contract, Pavel Datsyuk will enter the 2013-14 season at 35 years old with 2 years left on his current deal. Since 2000 a player over the age of 35 has scored at a PPG pace 16 times. Given that the players who are on this list typically all had a PPG pace over 1, it would be logical to believe that Datsyuk's offensive production will decline in the coming years.
His defensive prowess probably will remain close to constant, but with increasing age comes a decrease in speed. The body starts to slow down past a certain age, and when injuries have started to take their toll, a 35 year old player isn't going to be the same physically as a 25 year old.
Further consider that the Wings are likely on the verge of turning this team over to the next generation. Much like in 2007, we are very close to the younger players becoming the leaders on this team supplemented by some of the leftover veterans. The Red Wings as we know them will look a lot different in 2-3 years.
Looking at all those things, I was left with a startling conclusion: I wouldn't automatically shoot down the idea of trading Pavel Datsyuk. From there, I jumped to another thought: no one on this Red Wing team can't be moved.
Maybe the all of the retirements and departures of the "old guard" have finally caught up to me, but this team is headed on an unclear path. There's the possibility that we could see a seamless transition from the current core to the new one, but there's also a chance that the new core won't be good enough to keep the Wings at a level we're accustomed to. That's a scary thought, but knowing the Wings have assets that could make their future a little more secure is slightly comforting.
I'm not suggesting that Datsyuk "should" be traded. The return I would expect the Wings to get for a player of his caliber would make even Scott Howson think I was being unreasonable. But if the right package was offered, a package of players, prospects and picks that would give the Wings a much greater chance to remain Cup contenders both now and in the future, and it was turned down, I think there would be just a little bit of anger on my part.