Pavel Datsyuk will go down as a Detroit Red Wings legend, there is no doubt about that.
A 1998 draft pick taken at selection 171, there are a whole lot of teams kicking themselves in the head for passing on this physical freak. He is perhaps hockey’s equivalent of Tom Brady, a late draft pick that will turn out to be one of the game’s all time greats. Two Stanley Cups and three Selke trophies are surely nothing to scoff at. He has the hands of a magician and that is why he is often referred to as “The Magic Man.” Datsyuk appears to be a fairly gangly guy out their on the ice but he has proved to be one of the strongest. When he is gliding into the offensive zone, terrorizing another team’s defense, they find it nearly impossible to lift his stick and disposes him of the puck because his strength allows him keep his weapon pinned to the ice and puck at all times. This allows him to make some of the niftiest plays you will ever see.
However, aged 36, it seems that Datsyuk’s career is starting to wind down and much faster than any fan could have expected. He missed the majority of last season with a knee injury. Knee structure is obviously an integral part to the sport and it was thought he would have to have surgery to repair the issue which would have taken a great amount of time to heal, so he opted for rehab instead and everything seemed to be going just fine to start the season. In the first exhibition game, he suffered a shoulder injury. He then missed two additional games with a sore groin.
Then it was revealed this week that Datsyuk skipped practice because of the same nagging groin injury. After missing the Columbus game in which he will be scratched for Dan Cleary who is perhaps the most contrasting player on the Red Wings roster when it comes to Datsyuk, he will have missed 8 of 18 games. Perhaps the most frustrating issue for Wings fans is that it is not if Datsyuk is some washed up player, trying to squeeze in a few more games before he rides away into the sunset. He is still highly productive, as talented as ever, and just as entertaining to watch as when he came into the league. So far in the 10 games that Pav has appeared in he has registered 11 points, five goals and six assists. No fan in the league will care if a player is 80 years old, if they are putting up those kind of numbers, you want them on your team. He has also been averaging around 20 minutes played a night too. Surely that kind of ice time on a consistent basis will not help what seems to be a recurring groin issue.
One has to wonder are these setbacks happening solely because of Datsyuk’s age, or does the strength and conditioning department of the Red Wings organization deserve some blame in the matter? After all, there seems to be a never-ending list of Red Wings that have gone down to groin injuries in the past two seasons. This includes Stephen Weiss who is currently rehabbing in Grand Rapids for what seems like the 100th time since Ken Holland signed him away from the Florida Panthers and essentially had the wool pulled over his eyes about Weiss’s own injury riddled career.
Let’s not forget about the groin injury that Franzen just came back from as well. Franzen has been playing great this season and definitely covering up for the offensive absence of Datsyuk. The Mule has an identical stat line to Datsyuk, with five goals and six helpers through one more game, but fans are being robbed of the sheer joy of watching Datsyuk glide through the neutral zone with the puck and at times fool two opponents with one cut. Why is this Wings team relentlessly hampered by this type of injury? It seems very strange that these handful of players are all succumbing to the same type of injury.
Perhaps there are different options that coach Mike Babcock is looking at for Datsyuk when he returns to the team as a healthy skater. He could possibly be played in less back to back games in hopes of keeping him fresh. I do not think a reduction in ice time would work, because I do not believe a player with Datsyuk’s ability and determination would be okay sitting on the bench and watching his team possibly grind out the final few minutes of a game without his help. Whatever the solution, I am hoping one is found soon not only for Red Wings fans and the benefit of the franchise, but for hockey fans everywhere. Datsyuk is a once in a generation type player and although he may not score 50 goals a season, I do not know if we will ever see another player in our lifetime possess the puck with such authority and strike fear into defensemen the way that he does.