*

Rambler's Top100

21 2007 . 
Datsyuk dilemma: Is inconsistent forward worth a monster raise? // Detroit Free Press

HELENE ST. JAMES

The Red Wings have a dilemma: What are they going to do with Pavel Datsyuk? He has put up numbers lately that hint of someone who could be a 100-point seasonal performer, but he hasn't exactly been Mr. Playoffs.

Datsyuk is 28 years old and eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, one of several prominent Wings in that position. None, though, could affect the team's future with quite the same impact.

Advertisement
As he has illustrated over the past month, Datsyuk can be the most dynamic, breathtaking player in the NHL. He produced 14 points in five games between Jan. 9-17, and 20 points between Dec. 27-Jan. 17. Opponents have looked helpless, unable to contain him as he moves through traffic, unable to guess whether he'll pass or shoot.

But Datsyuk isn't Nicklas Lidstrom, who, even going back to when he was 28 years old, defined consistency. Look at Datsyuk's numbers from the start of the season through Dec. 2 and you'll see a much different player than he has been in recent weeks. He had 15 points in the Wings' first 25 games of the season -- this from the highest-paid forward on the team and the second-highest paid Wing.

Ghosts of playoffs past

The most troubling aspect regarding Datsyuk and his future in Detroit is his playoff past. Last spring, during the first-round series with eighth-ranked Edmonton, Datsyuk had three assists in five games; he didn't have a point in three of those games.

In 2004, when the Wings played Nashville in round one and lost to Calgary in round two, Datsyuk had six assists in 12 games. Three of them came in two games against the Predators; the other three came in Games 2 and 3 against the Flames. That makes eight games Datsyuk had no points.

In 2003, he had no points and was a minus-three in the four games it took Anaheim to upset the Wings in round one. His rookie year, in 2002, he was a role player on a line with Brett Hull, and contributed three goals and three assists in 21 games.

Datsyuk's salary has increased dramatically. He went from making $700,000 in 2001-02 to $1.5 million in 2003-04 to $3.9 million last season and this one.

In 2005-06, Datsyuk finished as the Wings' leading scorer in the regular season, with 87 points in 75 games. In the team's playoffs points total, he finished behind Mathieu Schneider, Robert Lang, Henrik Zetterberg and Steve Yzerman, and tied Tomas Holmstrom and Kirk Maltby, the former of whom primarily got his points on the power play, and the latter of whom averaged about seven fewer minutes per game.

Datsyuk missed the last seven games of the regular season last year and the opening game of the playoffs because of a charley horse, but the fact is he does not have a history of being a playoff performer.

Datsyuk seeking big bucks

Then there's this season: Datsyuk should have been the Wings' leading scorer from October onward. Instead, he didn't surpass Lidstrom for that title until after the Wings' 43rd game of the season, when he had a five-point performance against Phoenix on Jan. 11. It's impossible not to notice Datsyuk's resurgence coincided with his reunion with former linemate Zetterberg. But if Datsyuk wants to get superstar money, his numbers can't hinge on him being paired with one guy in particular.

Datsyuk's agent is aiming for a contract in the $7 million range, which would put Datsyuk near Lidstrom's $7.6 million.

I don't see the Wings giving Datsyuk that kind of money. For starters, it means that when Zetterberg's contract expires at the end of 2007-08, he'll have to get the same. General manager Ken Holland does not want his team to become like Tampa Bay, which has three players tying up $21 million, thus limiting what else can be done within the $44 million salary cap. (Early signs indicate the cap at most might grow $1 million to $2 million for next season).

Last week, Holland said he wants to "get Pavel signed.

"We're not trading him at the trade deadline," Holland said. "In talks to Pavel and his agent, they tell me their first priority is to sign with the Red Wings. That's our priority, too."

But, Holland added, "we've talked enough to know we're not in ongoing negotiations."

Once the playoffs begin, Holland doesn't talk contracts again until they're over. If Datsyuk continues his current torrid production, the risk of losing him to free agency increases. But what if Datsyuk has another subpar playoffs? How do you justify giving him a raise?

" "

...
"¨ " @ c 1997