At this point in the career of Pavel Datsyuk, we all know what to expect with him. High offensive output. Silky smooth skating. Hands of magic. Elite defense. He is the definition of an all-around player, or at least until Patrice Bergeron took that role.
But this season, Pavel Datsyuk hasn’t exactly been Pavel Datsyuk. Well, his defense is still elite. His 57.91% Score-Adjusted 5v5 CF is 11th in the league, his 24.36 Score-Adjusted 5v5 Shots Against per 60 is 37th, and for all the old timers, his +12 is tied for 61st in the league.
It’s his offense that is becoming a bit of a concern. His points per game is at it’s lowest since his rookie season when he posted only 35 points in 70 games. Which leads us to the question: what is up with Datsyuk this season?
The easiest answer would be to put the blame on his age. As is a proven fact in the NHL, players on the wrong side of 30 tend to lose their ability to play like they did when they were younger, with a few exceptions (Jaromir Jagr, I’m looking at you). Especially players who have an injury history like Datsyuk. One way to prove it is shot volumes. A skilled player always has the ability to create the space to take shots or the precision to shoot through a storm of bodies to get it on net. They tend to lose this ability as they age, whether it’s their body stiffening up, and not being able to take as many shots, or they aren’t fast enough to create space anymore.
However, this hasn’t been the case for Datsyuk. He’s actually taking shots at a rate that is the third highest of his career, with the other two being his 97 point seasons when he was firing shots like a maniac. So, age has not affected the magic man yet.
Another solution to Datsyuk’s problem could be luck. After all, hockey is a game of bounces, and sometimes players have seasons where the bad bounces don’t go their way. Interestingly enough, his 5v5 PDO is the third worst of his career, but it is still a 100.12, which means he isn’t lucky nor unlucky. However, this is mainly due to the 93.06 5v5 on-ice save percentage, so his PDO might not be the whole story.
His 9.5% personal shooting percentage is the lowest of his career, so that explains why it may seem that he should be scoring more. Meanwhile, his 7.06% 5v5 on-ice shooting percentage is also the lowest it’s ever been. So, he clearly isn’t getting the bounces offensively this season, despite driving play at an elite level.
Something else to look at is who he’s playing with this season. Looking at this chart of line combos, Datsyuk plays a lot with Darren Helm. Helm has never been much a point scorer (most points he’s had in a season is 38 in 2010-11), and his nine goals at even strength this season are tied for the second-best in his career. While he has been a very good possession player throughout his career, he’s not an elite scorer, so he’s not the kind of player who should be playing with Pavel Datsyuk.
Another common linemate of his is Justin Abdelkader, who is quite similar to Darren Helm. He’s a solid possession player, but he can’t produce offensively (his highest point total was 44 last year while experiencing a career high 11.71% 5v5 on-ice shooting percentage). However, he’s producing similarly this year, so maybe he can produce at a level that Datsyuk should play with, but I don’t buy into a guy who’s best season in a nine-season career is when he’s 27.
The other way to look at this is that Datsyuk had a slow start to the season due to fully recovering from his injury, as well as adjusting to the new coach. In his first 10 games of the season, he was held off the scoreboard in three consecutive games twice, and only had three points during that stretch. If you remove the first 10 games, he sees much more consistency, as aside from a four-game point drought from February 20 to 27, he is rarely held off the scoreboard. His points per game perks up to about 0.85, which is still one of his worst seasons, but not as bad as with the first 10 games.
So, good news Wings fans. Pavel Datsyuk has shown no signs of aging, but is merely an example of bad luck, playing with players he shouldn’t be, and suffering from a slow start. The bad news is that it might be coming at the worst time, because this could very well be his last year before age does affect him, and in a year where a lot of the Wings are having trouble scoring, which would be a big issue if they miss the playoffs this year.
All statistics come from the NHL, NHL Numbers, and War on Ice. All line combos information comes from Corsica.