Born: July 20, 1978
Birthplace: Sverdlovsk, USSR
Drafted: 1998, 6th Round, 171st overall
Contract Status: Please don't make me talk about this...
Going into this season, expectations for Datsyuk were not as high as they have been in the past. We all expected some degree of slip with Father Time catching up. Needing to raid the set of The Walking Dead to find zombie tendons for off-season surgery, we all knew he would need time to rest up, rehabilitate, and get back into game shape. Things often don't come back exactly how they were before when an aging player has somewhat major reconstructive surgery, but as Red Wings fans we were obligated to hope for the best.
To put things in perspective, Datsyuk was coming off a 63-game showing in the 2014-2015 season, scoring at a clip of over a point per game. When I say a slip was expected, it's not like anyone was thinking he would suddenly change into hot-dog water. After all, this was the Magic Man we were talking about - he hadn't fallen below 0.8 points per game since the 2002-2003 season, his second in the NHL.
So, as I said, we knew a slip was coming. We knew easier assignments were coming... probably... and that there could be less time each game for Datsyuk to pull rabbits out of hats, pucks out from behind ears, and generally wreak havoc on your mind as you tried to figure out the physics of how he made the seemingly impossible play happen.
Come November, we were all starving for some magic in the line-up. Enter Datsyuk, on a rebuilt ankle and with Stonehands Darren Helm to one side of him, trying to make a difference on a team with a new coach, new schemes, and searching for its identity and the formula to win. And yet, over the course of a season, this happened. And this happened. Points happened. Hits happened. 600 assists happened. In short, magic happened.
OK, out of the nostalgia for a second. Despite some great points, Datsyuk DID slip a bit as expected. 49 points in 66 games was his worst per-game points total since his rookie year, where he averaged 0.5 points per game. However, the 0.74 per-game points total was good enough to lead the Red Wings and be in the top 60 of all NHL skaters who played at least half the season. True, he did drop in overall points production while averaging 36 seconds more ice time this season than last, but the entire Wings team struggled with offense this season both at even strength and on the powerplay (where Datsyuk led the team with 28 powerplay points). And this guy was on the verge of being our new "Lt. Dan"! Thankfully, that nickname can stay where it belongs for now.
Given everything that's happened over the past few weeks, I have to admit there's a part of me that wants to fail Datsyuk. Or at least give him a D. My emotions are trying to justify it, saying that even though the season is over, his contract is still running until July 1st and anything he does prior to that date can impact his grade. Datsyuk leaving feels like a Senior in high-school skipping class in the last days of the year once they have all their credits completed because "what are you gonna do, hold me back another year? Lol..." and a big part of me wants to punish him somehow for that, for leaving when we want him to stay, like it would somehow keep him here.
But that's not rational. It's not fair. And it's not right. Pavel Datsyuk went thru hard times just to step back onto Detroit ice again this past season, when some accounts say that he didn't even want to be here this year. We could have been stuck having to "Weekend At Bernie's" him every game, tying his right leg to Darren Helm or Brad Richards or Tomas Tatar just to keep him upright. But he put in the work, and the ethic, and the heart and soul that so many hockey mouthpieces are fond of trumpeting about. A man with surgically replaced cadaver tendons in one ankle came back to our town to trail the team lead in points by 1, hold his own and then some in possession, and still manage to end up on the nightly high-light reel more often than not. Datsyuk has been the engine underneath the Red Wings hood for so long, and even though he's lost some horsepower with age, he fired on all the cylinders he had left this year.
2015-2016 Final Grade: A. There was literally nothing more we could have expected from Pavel this season. Not realistically, at least. One more season of memories, of amazement and wonder, escape artist moves, and finding goals in what seemed to be thin air. A small chance for the new kids on the team, the ones who grew up yelling "HOW'D HE DO THAT" at their TVs, to peek behind the curtain and try to perfect their own acts. We may not like that the show has ended, that the curtain has dropped this season and will rise the next without our resident magician, but we can't deny that it was all worth the price of admission. I just hope you all were watching closely.
Thanks for everything, Pav.