Today has been a pretty weird day in Detroit, or Wings Nation if you will. As you’ve probably seen, Pavel Datsyuk admitted that the rumours of his NHL career coming to an end were true after all, and the organization has done a bit of spring cleaning in preparation for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But in both of those stories, there are moments that have me pointing a look of confusion in the direction of Ken Holland. One of these looks is for what he’s saying, and the other for what he’s doing.
Loyalty to a Fault
I get it; It’s hard to not get a little emotional about Pavel Datsyuk. The “Magic Man” has been the straw that stirs the drink in Detroit for upwards of a decade, giving his heart, body, and soul to the team while lifting the fans from their seats and his teammates to greatness. Seeing him move back home without having time to truly process and prepare for it is a punch to the gut. But this snippet in Mitch Alborn’s article was particularly concerning:
Dan Milstein, of course, is Datsyuk’s agent, and would be about as good of a source as any for a situation like this. In essence, the Red Wings have the option and blessing to move Datsyuk’s contract if need be, but won’t, presumably out of respect to their player. To me, that’s nonsense.
Granted, it might be difficult to find a suitor for Datsyuk’s deal in the first place. The Red Wings would have to find a trade partner who is willing to eat his $7.5 million cap hit, which has happened before with Marc Savard (Florida) and Chris Pronger (Arizona).
The difficulty, though, is that floor teams today are in a different situation than they were before. Teams like the Panthers, Nashville Predators, and New York Islanders are already on the verge of being competitive, meaning that extra money will be used towards making the team good, not solvent. The weaker teams (the Coyotes, the Buffalo Sabres, and Winnipeg Jets) are out of the picture, but looking at moving up before going down. Lower-salary teams aren’t “tanking” right now and don’t need the cap assistance.
Our very own Sam Blazer suggested that moving Datsyuk with an asset for one of these already-exiled anchor assets, like a Pronger or a Savard, might be viable. But outside of that, there’s no incentive without a huge attachment. If the Wings weren’t able to find the right move and held on to his $7.5 million cap hit, I wouldn’t fault them. After all, any scenario would lead to a retirement and a recapture penalty, meaning that there’s no way to save the entire cap hit which in turn lessens what Detroit would attach as an incentive.
But to have too much pride to not try is an entirely different story. Datsyuk is one of the greatest Red Wings ever, but once he leaves, his roster placement is, fittingly, magic paper. There is no more legacy tarnishing in moving him than there is in him leaving a year early. If you’re worried about him “retiring a Red Wing”, ensure that the other team orchestrates his paper retirement through mutual termination and sign him to a one-day contract once he’s eligible. There are ways around it.
You have to give it a try if nothing else. Datsyuk’s last gift to the team is that he won’t stand in the way of finding his replacement. If you want to respect his loyalty, work towards making a team he can be proud of.
No Sympathy For Anthony
So that was Holland’s action. But what about his words? Those were reserved for Anthony Mantha or at least made with him as the subject. From Gregg Krupa’s article in the Detroit News today:
I get where Holland is coming from. Jeff Blashill said had a similar quote to the eight-minute line in the winter regarding calling up the 21-year-old forward, and it’s hard to disagree with the idea that playing with the Griffins is the right decision. He’ll get more minutes, and play in a more offensive role, which at his age is more beneficial to his development.
I also get that Mantha is unlikely to make a massive dent in Detroit’s odds. The Wings barely stumbled into the playoffs, have the only negative goal differential of qualifiers in either conference and their star players, who are on both extremities of the age scale, are looking gassed. Mantha’s production has been very prospect-like despite sheltering and powerplay allowance, and while Joakim Andersson isn’t exactly much better, he, at the very least, has more familiarity with his teammates and Blashill’s present systems.
But there are so many other ways to say “this isn’t the right spot for him right now” than this. Especially when we’re talking about the same player that was thrown under the bus by Jim Devellano last year:
Maybe it says something about Mantha. Maybe the Red Wings still believe there’s a weakness in his game that his second-year production increase in Grand Rapids is hiding. But whether you’re trying to keep up the self-esteem of a young player, or you’re ready to move on, having someone in the organization say something demeaning about them seems counter intuitive.
Especially in consecutive seasons.
Ultimately, both Holland’s actions (Datsyuk) and his words (Mantha) seem more than a little curious on this Sunday evening. Maybe there’s nothing to it; maybe Holland already did his due diligence on Datsyuk before informing Milstein of their intentions, and maybe he simply misspoke or didn’t consider context before speaking about Mantha. Maybe these aren’t issues to be concerned with.
But, if nothing else, the optics look pretty bad right now.