When Ken Holland was selling off Unrestricted Free Agents two days ago it got me thinking. How did we get here? Was it just a matter of time? Did Holland’s mismanagement of the salary cap drive us into the ground? Then I came to the conclusion that this is happening because Pavel Datsyuk decided to leave and go back to Russia last spring.
I’m not here to bash Datsyuk by any means. It was his decision. He wanted to be with his family and I can’t fault him for that. Hell, I probably would have done the same. However, what if Datsyuk played one more year? Would the Red Wings be better off? Or would have it simply prolonged the inevitable that is the end an era and then end of the glorious streak?
I think Datsyuk leaving screwed Holland and the Red Wings and not just because we lost our best player and one of the best players in the NHL, but because of the events that transpired after his departure.
On June 18, 2016 Datsyuk officially retired from the NHL and took off for Russia. We knew for months that it was probably happening, but it was hard not to hold out hope that he might stay for one more year. Just the essence of Datsyuk leaving was detrimental to the Red Wings. We’re talking about one of the best, if not the best two-way forward in the NHL. Gone.
Datsyuk made every player around him better. Just take a look at his impact on everyone’s CorsiFor% in 2015-16:
Any player that Datsyuk played any significant minutes with in 2015-16 saw a big jump in CorsiFor% and taking a player like that out of the lineup cripples your offence. Now look at all of those same players’ CorsiFor% this season in comparison to what it was with Datsyuk a season ago.
Terrifying. As you can see, Datsyuk leaving left the Red Wings with a blackhole in the middle of their lineup that they needed to try and fill. For me, that’s where this thing went wrong.
Fast forward one week to June 24th and the NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo. The Red Wings are sitting with the No.16 overall pick, which happens to be their second highest pick since 1991—their highest was No.15 overall two years prior when they selected Dylan Larkin. You might have heard of him.
Auston Matthews. Patrik Laine. Yeah it would have been nice to have them. Oh well. All of a sudden we see this 6-foot-2, 215 lbs. defenseman named Jakob Chychrun dropping right into out laps. For those of you who didn’t know, Chychrun was largely regarded as the best defenseman in the draft but dropped and Red Wings fans were getting excited.
However, Holland was looking at a $7.5 million dead cap-hit in Datsyuk and knew he needed to move it. When Chychrun fell all the way to No.16, he moved the pick and Datsyuk’s contract to the Coyotes to drop down four spots. Now, I’m not saying it was a bad move, he needed to shed that dead cap-hit, but this just furthers my point. If Datsyuk decided not to retire and finish out his contract, the Red Wings would have picked up a potential stud defenseman, which they so desperately need.
Chychrun made the Coyotes as an 18-year-old, I doubt that would have been the case in Detroit, but he has had a solid rookie campaign. The Florida native has 14 points (5G / 9A) in 51 games. Playing on a pretty bad Coyotes squad, Chychrun carries a 1.22 CF% relative to his team (per corsica)—which means that they are marginally better when he’s on the ice, something that can’t be said about half of the Red Wings’ current blueliners.
After trading Datsyuk at the draft, Holland went into July 1st with room to make some signings. In an effort to replace Datsyuk’s two-way ability, he signed Frans Nielsen to a six-year, $31.5M deal ($5.25M AAV) right out of the gate. I like Nielsen today and he’s done an OK job trying to fill massive shoes, but I don’t know how much we’re going to like that deal when he is 36, 37 and 38 years old.
By trading Datsyuk and freeing up $7.5 million and only using $5.25M on Nielsen, Holland had an extra $2.25M to play with. What did he do with it? Signed another depth forward (Darren Helm) to a five-year deal worth $3.85M per season ($19.250M). If Datsyuk stays, Helm never gets re-signed and we don’t have that deal on the books for the first four seasons.
If Datsyuk had stayed, the Thomas Vanek deal still would have been entirely possible and Holland probably still would have made it, because it addressed a need for a top-6 winger.
If Pavel didn’t leave for Russia with one-year left on his contract, the Red Wings would be in much better shape than they are today.
They would have a bonafide A-prospect in Chychrun. They wouldn’t have Nielsen and Helm on the books through 2021. They very likely would have been a better team all throughout 2016-17 and could have been a playoff team. They would have $7.5M of free cap-space at the end of the season to continue to re-tool and finally, they wouldn’t have to worry about protecting Datsyuk, cause he’s retired or Nielsen’s no movement clause and would be in even better shape heading into the expansion draft.
I was born in 1991, which means every year since I was born the Red Wings have been in the playoffs. I’ve been a Red Wings fans since I knew what hockey was. I remember staying up way past my five-year old bed time to watch the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 1997. So, as you can imagine, I’m not taking this season very well. It would have been better with No.13 in the lineup.