There is no franchise in any of the four major sports that includes the term loyalty in their day-to-day operations. Except one. The Detroit Red Wings have made a habit out of developing, grooming and keeping great players for the duration of their careers.
On Monday the Red Wings announced that they had come to terms with star center, Pavel Datsyuk, on a contract extension that will keep the winged wheel on his chest for the next four seasons. There had been speculation that Datsyuk might return to mother Russia to close out his spectacular career after the 2014-15 season.
The whispers about Datsyuk returning home were to be expected. Given his age (35), his daughter and the lockout that cut this season short, Datsyuk would naturally express some curiosity about concluding his career in the nation he called home until he moved to Detroit at age 23.
As a rookie in 2002, Datsyuk was a fourth line player on an enormously talented Red Wing roster. He found continuity with veteran Brett Hull and Boyd Devereaux on a line aptly named “Two Kids and a Goat." The Wings would win the Stanley Cup that year and again in 2008. Though his English is still rough today, there isn’t a player in the world that looks as silky smooth on the ice.
On Monday Datsyuk put pen to paper on the three-year extension that will pay him $22.5 million. The salary cap hit works out to $7.5 million, which is great market value for a player who is largely considered to be the most complete player in the NHL. Datsyuk led the Red Wings in scoring this season with 15 goals and 34 assists in the 48-game abbreviated season.
Though the year after legendary captain Nicklas Lidstrom was supposed to be a rebuilding year, Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall and new captain Henrik Zetterberg, led Detroit to the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive year. The Wings surprised the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks in a thrilling seven game series before falling in seven to the Stanley Cup finalist Chicago Blackhawks.
Datsyuk’s deal means he joins some elite company with the storied Detroit Red Wings. In an era where almost every athlete is seeking a bigger and better free-agent contract, Datsyuk joins Zetterberg, Kronwall, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom as the most recent “lifer” Red Wings.
Continuity in a team sport is crucial when a championship is being chased. Adding number 13 to the fold means that the core of Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Kronwall and goalie Jimmy Howard are locked down until 2016-17. A team where the defense was supposed to be the Achilles heel in Detroit turned out to be the fifth best in the NHL.
Detroit General Manager Ken Holland called signing Datsyuk “peace of mind,” a sentiment shared by every Red Wings fan. There is still work to be done this offseason, with some big decisions ahead. Locking up Pavel Datsyuk was the first priority and the biggest step as Detroit reclaims it spot as one of the elite teams in the NHL.