With the Wings' season over and our attention turning to the uncertainty of the future, the biggest question for the Red Wings and their fans right now is about the fate of Pavel Datsyuk and the $7.5M cap hit that, by rule of the CBA, is going to be SOMEWHERE in the NHL next season, even if Datsyuk isn't.
When I woke up on April 10th to read from Mitch Albom that Pavel Datsyuk had told him he was thinking he was going home after this season, I wrote my feelings on the matter at the time. I still feel that way about everything that goes on. I want Pavel Datsyuk back if he wants to come back, but if he doesn't, then it is what it is and he'll be gone. Since that day and even in the immediate aftermath of the game that ended Detroit's playoffs, Datsyuk has said that he isn't 100% certain of it.
Regardless of how I feel about Datsyuk now and how I'll feel going forward (which is likely to change about a dozen times over the course of this summer), the Red Wings are in a time crunch that dictates business action on this topic and it's going to be up to Ken Holland to manage it correctly. We learned today from various sources on both sides of the pond that Datsyuk will play for the home team Russia in the IIHF World Championships starting in May, so we're probably not going to learn anything before that tournament ends on May 22nd, but after that, the clock is running quickly.
Play the Worlds, take a few weeks, let me know before the Cup Final is over.
If Datsyuk is gone and the Wings get saddled with the dead cap hit, then the time to know that is honestly right now. For all the shit that Ken Holland is going to take from us and every other corner of the Wings' fanbase in the coming weeks/months/years, he did at least get a timely decision on the Mike Babcock sweepstakes that allowed him to get a third round pick out of the loss. Holland wasn't so lucky on that consideration when he let the salary arbitration of Jiri Hudler force a waiting game that cost him an opportunity to see about keeping Marian Hossa before Hudler bolted to Russia and didn't come back to honor his arbitrator-awarded contract for a full year.
Trying to move $7.5M worth of dead cap space is going to be a real tough sell for Holland. There's going to be a number of teams who might take on such space as a way to build up to the cap floor without having to actually pay salary, but nothing comes for free and the more-likely situation is that moving the space is going to end up costing the Red Wings either in assets or in having to take back a slightly smaller useless bunch of cap room.
Swallowing $7.5M in dead cap space is absolutely not acceptable
I know some people would want Holland to do this simply to honor the memory of Datsyuk by allowing him to technically never have belonged to another NHL club throughout his entire career, but that's an absolutely huge chunk of change to saddle your team with for something that's altogether meaningless. Datsyuk has already two times had to play in Russia because of lockouts, so it's not like his professional career is entirely untainted by never having worn a uniform other than Detroit's.
In this case, he wouldn't even be wearing the uniform of the new team either. A failure to move him would be just that: failure.
The Draft is when trades happen
While we're talking about feelings and doing what's right, the point remains that in the business world of the NHL, he who hesitates is lost. The NHL draft is when all the GMs are in the same spot and they're all in a trading/wheeling/dealing mood. The draft is the pure season reset for teams' entire strategies going into the next season. If Ken Holland allows the team to go to that part of the year with the biggest question of the next season unanswered, then his ability to navigate the entire summer successfully is going to be tougher to watch than Nik Kronwall quarterbacking the power play from the very edges of the offensive zone.
Pavel Datsyuk has a say in this too
While it's not entirely true that Ken Holland can simply tell Datsyuk "let me know a week before the draft or I'll make the decision and trade you," it's basically the truth that this is where the Red Wings' GM needs to be. Datsyuk has a full no-movement clause, so he'd be able to veto any trades, but he already told Albom that he'd be willing to waive that clause to help the Red Wings with the cap hit on the deal he also said he wishes he hadn't signed.
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All-in-all, this is an uncomfortable situation for the Red Wings and for fans of both the team and Pavel Datsyuk. We don't know where it's going to go from here. Things could go smoothly from here or they could go very ugly, but either way the Red Wings need to know how it's going to go before the playoffs are over.