Pavel Datsyuk is the best player in the NHL. There, I said it. I know it may be a hard pill to swallow for fans outside of the Motor City, but it's time Datsyuk gets his due.
Some will say Sidney Crosby, some will say Alex Ovechkin, I'm sure even the Sedins or Toews of the world would get some votes. But "The Wizard" trumps them all in my opinion.
Has he ever won a Hart Trophy? No. Has he ever won a scoring title? No. But he does have three Selke Trophies as best defensive forward and had he not been injured for a portion of the 2010-11 season, he would have made it four straight.
His career plus-187 rating is higher than his total number of penalty minutes (172), a feat not even paralleled by teammate and legendary defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Crosby and Ovechkin won't be able to say that by the time they reach Datsyuk's age.
And while the Lady Byng trophy is sometimes criticized as something a hockey player shouldn't be proud of winning, every minute that Datsyuk isn't in the penalty box is a huge advantage for the Wings. He's won the Lady Byng four times by the way and past multiple-winners like Wayne Gretzky, Stan Mikita, Mike Bossy and Marcel Dionne seem to have turned out okay.
Crosby and Ovechkin supporters will point out that they put up more points per game than Datsyuk in their careers to date. A fair argument, but take into consideration that Datsyuk takes 100-150 less shots per season than those two.
Anyone who has watched Datsyuk play for any amount of time will know that he sports a seemingly limitless arsenal of moves that turn defensemen and goalies alike inside-out. If he was put in a position where he was counted on for 50 goals in a year, trust me he could do it with relative ease.
That's not his game though and Detroit doesn't need it to be. They have far too many offensive weapons to rely on one guy to do the scoring like Pittsburgh and Washington.
Datsyuk is also an assassin in another aspect of the game that has become more and more important the last few years, the shootout. It may not be the most popular way to decide a game, but the rules are the rules and Datsyuk dominates.
His career 26 shootout goals is good enough for second and his 48.1 percent career shooting percentage is fourth among players with 30 or more attempts. Crosby ranks 13th and 17th respectively and Ovechkin isn't even on the radar.
The fact of the matter is that Datsyuk is the most complete player in the game. Crosby and Ovechkin may be able to boast more points, but if discussion is based on offensive skill Datsyuk is at least their equal and he owns them on the defensive side of the puck and in the shootout. And lets not forget who has more Cups.
Couple all that with the fact that we don't yet know how Crosby will return from his concussion issues and Ovechkin is coming off a relatively down year, the argument can and has been made that Pavel Datsyuk is the best player in the NHL.