Unless you live under a rock (some of us actually do, so no judgement), you know that Pavel Datsyuk is mulling the idea of leaving Detroit one year early, and returning to Russia. These rumors are really nothing new to Red Wings fans, as we all know Pavel has been wanting to return home for some time now. If they the reports hold up, Datsyuk would return back to Russia, and the club would be stuck paying the remaining $7.5 million cap hit for the 2016-2017 season. Datsyuk signed his three-year extension when he was 36 years old - The CBA has a clause in it for 35+ contracts that strong-arms teams into keeping the cap hit on the books if the veteran player is to leave, or retire. Therein lies the conundrum for the Red Wings.
This article is absolutely hypothetical. We're going to talk about what the Red Wings can do to remedy the burn of losing one of their longtime franchise playmakers, while still being stuck pants-down with the dinner bill. There are two main tactics that could help this entire contractual obligation the Red Wings have, one being completely plausible, the other, well, not as much.
Trading Pavel Datsyuk's Contract
This would be the best case scenario.
The Red Wings could absolutely find a team that is struggling to reach the NHL's cap floor, and strike a trade bringing minimal assets back, but gaining enormous cap flexibility. The tricky part is that you cannot simply trade a canceled contract to another team. This is not a Chris Pronger situation where the contract is shrouded in LTIR.
What the Red Wings would have to do is pow-wow with Datsyuk, and come to terms with his departure on a handshake agreement. At that point, the club would need to move Datsyuk's contract to a team in need of cap hit before the player makes the final decision, and signs his name on the dotted line. Now the team who has acquired him is on the hook for the $7.5 million. Could the Red Wings retain salary? Sure. Would they have to retain salary? Probably, but you're still going to get a large chunk of cap space either way.
There's a lot of moving parts to this theory. Detroit would need to make an agreement with Pavel to waive his NMC, then agree with another NHL team that this contract will end up dead money at some point in the offseason. It's possible, but it would require Ken Holland doing some serious voodoo magic on his part. I don't have confidence in that.
Promoting Prospects with Affordable Contracts
Ken Holland would certainly need to take the "moneypuck" approach here.
The Red Wings organization is armed to the teeth with talented, young prospects that could be brought into a primary top-six role to fill the gaps. Obviously you don't have a surefire replacement for Pavel Datsyuk, but bringing prospects in could revitalize the team with young, raw skill.
First names right off the bat are Anthony Mantha, and Evgeny Svechnikov. Svechnikov has played some center in the QMJHL, but the gap in talent between that and the NHL is night and day. You also run the risk of burning a year on his ELC. Svechnikov is a big power forward that has lit the QMJHL up. Much like Mantha, but instead of the knack for goal-scoring, he's a playmaker. He goes after the puck like a bull shark, and gets into the dirty areas. He's a perfect asset to have, but sticking him right in the NHL might not work for him. He's still young, and he still needs development. The only argument is that some of us might have said the same about Dylan Larkin as he was finishing up his season with the University of Michigan. Sometimes players adapt well to the NHL level of play.
If the Red Wings were to implement more rookie wingers, that means the departure of Datsyuk would create openings down the middle. That's where Detroit should transition Dylan Larkin into a top-two center role, while making Andreas Athanasiou the bonafide third-line centerman. Obviously, there's a lot that needs to be done. The team needs to figure out what to do with Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen, and they'll also need to decide if they want to invest in Riley Sheahan or use him in a trade. At the end of the day, promoting young player with cheap contracts seems like the easiest way to go if Datsyuk leaves this summer. It's risky, but it's a good fallback plan if they cannot move Pavel's money.
We're in for a roller coaster of an offseason, folks. Buckle up.