The nostalgia factor is hitting pretty hard in Detroit right now.
And while the Bobfather himself, Bob McKenzie, thinks the odds of Datsyuk landing back in Detroit are slim, since Datsyuk will be in Detroit today, it’s worth exploring.
The 40-year-old, who will be 41 in July, finished up his third season with SKA St. Petersburg after playing for 14 seasons in Detroit.
At first glance, it might seem like a dream scenario for Red Wings fans. After all, he wasn’t nicknamed the Magic Man for nothing. Fans, no doubt, remember the time he juked Logan Couture right out of his jock strap or when he posterized Marty Turco on a breakaway, a deke that EA Sports put into its NHL game last season.
During his last season in Detroit (2015-16), he scored 16 goals and added 33 assists in 66 games — not bad for a 37-year-old. Don’t forget, his last season in the NHL was the last time the Red Wings made the playoffs.
Datsyuk’s presence immediately improves the Red Wings — not only from an offensive perspective but on the defensive side, as well — and gives them center depth they haven’t had in years.
However, the possible production Detroit would get from Datsyuk doesn’t make it worth signing him.
First of all, the Red Wings already have a roster logjam even without Datsyuk. Assuming the team doesn’t make any free agent signings and doesn’t re-sign any players on expiring contracts — namely Niklas Kronwall, Luke Witkowski and Thomas Vanek — here’s what the 23-man roster could look like in October. Pay attention to the players on the roster and not the line combinations.
This roster doesn’t even account for Joe Veleno, who just signed his entry-level deal with the Red Wings and, with a strong training camp, could make the opening-night roster.
In a perfect world, the Red Wings could trade Justin Abdelkader and/or Darren Helm and free up a roster spot, or they could bury Jacob de La Rose in the minors, but while Datsyuk’s presence would improve the Red Wings, it doesn’t improve them enough to warrant taking a roster spot from a prospect or young player.
Rob Vollman created a translation factor for players playing in different leagues and how that production would translate to the NHL. I couldn’t find translation factors for the 2018-19 season, but this one from last season will be close enough.
Here are the translation factors in the format that you know and love.
Just multiply by the translation factor.
It's based on data back to 2005-06, but it is tuned to 2017-18 league scoring levels. pic.twitter.com/RPeYrNjs9G
— Hockey Abstract (@HockeyAbstract) April 11, 2018
So, if we use Datsyuk’s 2018-19 season in the KHL — he scored 12 goals and had 30 assists in 54 games — it amounts to about nine goals, 24 assists and 33 points. Of course, the translation factors don’t account for a lot of other variables, including teammates, ice time, player usage, player age, etc., so while it’s not a guarantee Datsyuk would only score 33 points should he play in the NHL next season, it’s a good starting point for us to consider if the production he offers is worth a roster spot.
But even if we are accounting for those variables, one has to imagine most of them aren’t working in Datsyuk’s favor.
He’ll have worse teammates with the Red Wings; SKA finished the 2018-19 season in second place and lost in the semifinals to eventual winner CSKA Moscow. Detroit, on the other hand, had the fourth-worst record in the league. He’ll probably get about the same amount of ice time, if not less (he averaged 17:25 last season with SKA). And lastly, he’s a year older. There aren’t many 40-year-old hockey players who can contribute on a consistent basis.
And while the KHL is probably the second-best league in the world, it’s still not the NHL. Ilya Kovalchuk had quite a down year in his return to the NHL, scoring just 34 points in 64 games for the Los Angeles Kings. Kovalchuk is more of a goal scorer and Datsyuk is more of a playmaker, but the two have had nearly identical NHL numbers, both at around 0.96 points per game for their respective careers.
In his press conference, Yzerman stated he wasn’t going to sign free agents to improve just a little bit. He understands the team is in a rebuild and needs to draft and develop players to have long-term success. Signing Datsyuk, while it might be fun and exciting for fans, does nothing to help the rebuild and, in fact, hinders it.
There’s no denying Datsyuk’s hockey IQ and creativity. He can dangle his way out of a phone booth and sees the game better than almost any active player, but the NHL is all about speed, and signing a 40-year-old player doesn’t make the team any faster.