Datsyuk formally confirmed this weekend what everyone had been expecting since April: his retirement from the NHL and return to Russia to be with his family. Datsyuk has spent his entire 14 year NHL career in Detroit and produced at a rate of a point per game. The only downside is the timing of Datsyuk’s NHL retirement as he still has one year left of his current contract that carries a $7.5 annual average value (AAV).
With the 2016-2017 salary cap set at $73M, over 10% of Detroit’s salary cap space is tied up in a player that won’t even be on this continent. Because Datsyuk signed this contract after turning 35, the CBA states that the contract is binding throughout the length of the deal. This is done so teams can’t expose a loophole of extending the contract to lower the AAV of an aging player who is likely to retire before completion of the contract. This is a major issue as Detroit’s veteran leaders in Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall are both 35 and their window of succeeding with this core group is closing up. Having Datsyuk’s contract on their books would hinder Detroit’s chances of making the playoffs for a 26th consecutive season and of competing for the Stanley Cup this year.
One alternative to eating up the contract would be trying to trade him. A majority of the team’s in the league operate within $10M of the Stanley Cup so they likely wouldn’t be able to take on Datsyuk’s contract as it would leave them with little wiggle room to make call ups or deals during the season. That being said, there are a handful of teams that operate slightly above the salary cap floor as they have internal salary caps set by ownership. It would be smart for Detroit to look towards a team trying to get to the salary cap floor (set at $54M for the 2016-2017 season) as they would be able to take on Datsyuk’s cap hit much easier.
With the help of General Fanager, I’ve identified six teams currently operating near or below the salary cap floor that likely would be able to take on Datsyuk’s contract. They are the Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, and New Jersey Devils. The Panthers, Sabres, Hurricanes, and Flames only have a couple more roster spots to fill up for this upcoming season where the Devils and Coyotes have almost half of their roster to still sign.
Detroit will likely have to entice a team to take on Datsyuk’s contract by packaging a higher draft pick, a prospect, or even a current roster player in order to get a deal done. Detroit may have to be creative and cater to another organization’s needs to convince them to trade for Datsyuk’s cap hit. Even so, a division or conference foe may not take on the contract as it would help Detroit, which in turn would hurt their own chances. It is very unlikely that Buffalo or Florida would help out their division rival. Because of this, Arizona, Carolina, or Calgary seem like the most likely destination for Datsyuk’s contract if a trade were to happen.
An important benefit in addition to acquiring an asset along with Datsyuk’s contract is that the receiving team would not be on the hook to pay Datsyuk the $5.5M he’s owed this season. With Datsyuk not participating in any team activities this upcoming season, the team can suspend him without pay for the duration of the season. This is similar to what Tampa Bay did to Jonathan Drouin when he took a voluntary leave from the team after being unhappy with his role in the organization.
Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland spoke on his continued efforts to move Datsyuk’s contract in order to free up cap space. He said, “I’m not overly optimistic. Teams are obviously looking for lots of future assets and I understand that there’s a price to be paid to try to free up the cap space but if it’s going to be one of our top young players or a high draft pick, I don’t know that it makes a whole lot of sense.” It is in Detroit’s best short-term interest to move the contract but may not be the smartest thing when considering the team’s long-term plan. When considering the team’s young stars, it may not be work giving up a potentially complementary piece to Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, or Brendan Smith.
Datsyuk only has one year left on his contract so the team won’t be handicapped for a long period of time. If Detroit isn’t able to move Datsyuk’s contract now, there is always the possibility of moving it around next season’s trade deadline to free up cap space to add an impactful player for a playoff run.
If successful in moving Datsyuk’s contract, Detroit would use this salary cap relief to fill out their roster for the upcoming season. It is common knowledge that they have heavy interest in signing coveted free agent Steven Stamkos. If Stamkos isn’t a viable option, they likely will look elsewhere in the free agent market.
Follow Steve Ness on Twitter: @QuickkNess
All salary cap information from General Fanager.