Former Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk during the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. Datsyuk and Team Russia will play an exhibition against Team Canada on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.
Sidney Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk get physical during Game 5 of the 2008 Stanley Cup final. Crosby said recently he admires the play and style of Datsyuk, who recently signed to play in the KHL and likely has played his final NHL game.
By Jason Mackey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sidney Crosby has never been shy about expressing his admiration for Pavel Datsyuk’s unique brand of hockey.
The longtime Detroit Red Wings star “retired” as an NHL player at 38 this summer and signed a two-year, $3.9 million contract with SKA St. Petersburg of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League to be closer to his teenage daughter.
Datsyuk’s NHL exodus strips hockey fans — a group that includes Crosby — of the pleasure of watching one of the league’s most creative and instinctive players, one Crosby has said reminds him most of Mario Lemieux among active players.
Not having Datsyuk on NHL rinks this winter will make games less visually appealing, but it also serves as a sad reminder that systems supercede style in the game today, a point with which Datsyuk agreed.
“There are not many creative players now,” Datsyuk said after Team Russia’s World Cup of Hockey practice Sunday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry. “It’s less and less every year. There’s lots of talent, but teams are playing more systems.”
Watch Datsyuk for two minutes, and it’s not hard to see what makes him so unique. Videos of Datsyuk swiping pucks from offensive players are all over YouTube. His artistry lifting sticks and instantly turning defense into offense earned him nicknames such as “The King of Steals” and “Magic Man.”
Datsyuk won the Selke Trophy three consecutive years from 2007-10 as the NHL’s best defensive forward. He also won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (sportsmanship) four consecutive times from 2006-09 while averaging 29 goals and 88 points a season in a five-year stretch from 2005-10.
Not bad for an undersized player (5 feet 11, 184 pounds) who wasn’t drafted until the sixth round in 1998.
The advanced statistics on Datsyuk, if you’re trying to quantify his value as a defensive player, are astounding. Stats.hockeyanalysis.com traces shot attempts to 2007. In the nine years since, Datsyuk’s Shot Attempts Against Per 60 Minutes (SA60) mark of 24.55 tops the list of players who’ve seen at least 5,000 minutes of ice time. His Corsi For Percentage (CF%) of .588 is also No. 1.
While a dazzling playmaker and the possessor of a deadly, quick release, it can be argued that Datsyuk is also the best defensive forward of his generation.
“Hockey is so different now,” said Datsyuk, who has fared no worse than 53.4 percent on faceoffs in any season of his career. “With the new rules in the NHL, you have to be good defensively. And, if you play fast, you have more time to work offensively.”
Crosby would not argue. Nobody needs to waste time pointing out Crosby’s ability to play a speed game, but his defensive prowess has picked up in recent years. His SA60 has dropped from 31.99 in 2008-09 to 29.04 in 2015-16, his Goals Against Per 60 Minutes (GA60) went from 2.76 to 2.17.
That’s not quite Datsyuk territory, but it’s impressive nonetheless. And Datsyuk, who already has four goals and seven points in six KHL games, has noticed. Told of Crosby’s admiration for his game, Datsyuk seemed taken aback and expressed honest appreciation before offering his feelings on Crosby.
“I respect him, too,” said Datsyuk, who has 314 career goals and 918 points in 953 NHL games. “When I look at him, he’s not a big guy, but he really competes. He finds spots to score. He doesn’t ever give up and he finishes every shift.”
Crosby and Datsyuk will meet at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Consol Energy Center for the second game of a World Cup exhibition doubleheader featuring Team Russia and Team Canada. North America and the Czech Republic square off at 3:30. The actual World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, which runs through the end of the month, figures to be Datsyuk’s final action on North American soil.
“You never know when it might be your last game,” Datsyuk said somewhat cryptically. “But it will be good to come back and touch base with NHL fans.”
Jason Mackey: email@example.com and Twitter @JMackeyPG.
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