Pavel Datsyuk's Return Just in Time for Sochi Will Benefit Detroit Red Wings

Matt HutterAnalyst IFebruary 4, 2014

Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk (13), of Russia, skates against the Dallas Stars in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

If all goes as hoped, the Detroit Red Wings will welcome Pavel Datsyuk back to the lineup on Thursday against the Florida Panthers.

Datsyuk has missed the past 13 games with an unspecified lower-body injury that has not only remained mysterious but has also fueled some speculation about Datsyuk’s true reason for nursing the injury as long as he has.

With the Winter Olympics now squarely on the horizon (the puck drops on February 12th) After a month of down time, Datsyuk will somehow have to bring himself to form quickly enough to lead Team Russia to what will be the only acceptable outcome for the host country—a gold medal.

In fact, this looming challenge has caused some to think that perhaps, Datsyuk’s time off has more to do with ensuring he performs well for his Olympic team, even at the cost of playing for his NHL one.

The tacit assumption at the base of these claims is that Datsyuk is probably well enough to play, but the longer he rests, the better he’ll feel and since there’s only a few games left in the NHL schedule before the Olympic break, might as well take ‘er easy and show up fresh as a daisy in Sochi.

This kind of assumption is, well—it’s just plain stupid.

The idea that Pavel Datsyuk, a core-member of Detroit’s leadership, a consummate professional and dedicated team player has been healthy enough to play for Detroit but has chosen to take some more time to rest up for the Olympics on Detroit’s dime is absurd.

While his participation—and any number of Detroit’s Olympians with recent injury troubles for that matter—is understandably worrisome to general manager Ken Holland, no one in the organization has suggested for one second that Datsyuk is sand-bagging to give 100 percent to Team Russia at the expense of the Detroit Red Wings.

But, the fact that Datsyuk will be playing most of his February hockey for Team Russia instead of the Red Wings may still feel a bit irksome.

In actuality, it could very well be the best-case scenario.

Consider this; while Detroit hasn’t been anywhere near as dangerous during Datsyuk’s absence, they haven’t exactly fallen apart.

A 7-5-6 record since Datsyuk’s last game isn’t anything to sneeze at considering the other injuries Detroit has had to endure during that same stretch.

Detroit is not Detroit without Pavel Datsyuk, but it certainly hasn’t been lost without him. His absence has allowed young forwards such as Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar and especially Gustav Nyquist to take on larger roles and the team has been better for it.

Datsyuk’s return to form will likely be a fairly slow progression. Should he play at Florida on Thursday and at Tampa Bay on Saturday before jetting off to Sochi, he’ll likely be using those games as warm-up for the Olympics.

Again, some may squirm at this notion but consider the likely state of Datsyuk’s game when he returns to Detroit.

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

If playing against the Panthers and Lightning amount to nothing more than a warm-up for Sochi, than playing in Sochi will surely double as a warm-up for the rest of Datsyuk’s season in Detroit.

If he’s healthy enough to play for Team Russia, he’ll be healthy enough to come back to the Red Wings—perhaps fresh off a medal win—and primed to help the team push into the playoffs.

There’s no evidence to support the silly notion that Datsyuk has been milking his recovery to the benefit of Team Russia. However, even if it were the case, it stands to reason that the Datsyuk that is headed to Sochi won’t be nearly as game-ready as the one that returns.