Pavel Datsyuk showed no signs of slowing down offensively last season. He has, however, been breaking down physically.
Datsyuk finished second on the Detroit Red Wings in scoring in 2014-15 with 65 points, one behind captain Henrik Zetterberg. And he registered that total despite sitting out 19 games with lower-body injuries.
The 37-year-old will be missing time again in 2015-16, as he is not expected to be ready for the start of the campaign due to offseason surgery. Datsyuk underwent a procedure on June 26 to repair ruptured tendons in his right ankle and may not be in Detroit’s lineup until November.
“They say 4-5 months,” Datsyuk told Russian website SVT.se. “We’ll see how this goes. … I’ll be (in Detroit), but they not start me. I hope I miss (only) a little bit, the beginning of the season.”
Datsyuk was injured while blocking a shot during the final month of the 2014-15 campaign. He missed eight of the Red Wings’ final 14 regular-season contests but appeared in all seven games of the team’s first-round playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, registering three goals and two assists as Detroit squandered a 3-2 series lead.
“Playoff time, not many guys healthy,” Datsyuk said. “Everybody (has) some injuries, small or big.”
The first game Datsyuk will miss is an important one. The Red Wings open the season on Oct. 9 against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs, who are led by former Detroit coach Mike Babcock.
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland’s brilliance likely will help the club stay afloat in Datsyuk’s absence. Knowing the veteran underwent surgery, Holland signed free-agent center Brad Richards, who is fresh off helping the Chicago Blackhawks capture the Stanley Cup.
The 35-year-old Richards notched only 12 goals and 37 points in 76 regular-season games with the Blackhawks, the lowest point total in a full season of his career. But he was a solid contributor during Chicago’s run to a third title in six years, collecting three tallies and 11 assists in 23 postseason contests.
Injuries are nothing new to Datsyuk, who was limited to 45 games in 2013-14. The Russian center has played a full 82-game schedule just once in his 13-year career, accomplishing the feat in 2007-08.
Datsyuk appeared in 81 and 80 games, respectively, the next two seasons. Since then, his highest total was 70 contests in 2011-12, although he only sat out once during the lockout-shortened 48-game campaign of 2012-13.
Even though Datsyuk has battled injuries nearly every season since breaking into the NHL in 2001-02, he has excelled when he actually is on the ice. The four-time All-Star helped the Red Wings to Stanley Cup championships in 2002 and 2008, won the Lady Byng Trophy four times and captured the Selke Trophy on three occasions.
Datsyuk has not reached the 70-point plateau since 2009-10 but remains an offensive threat, even at his advanced age. He averaged more than a point per game in three of his last five seasons and scored at least 23 goals twice in that span, netting 26 this past campaign.
The Red Wings have developed a number of forwards to take over for Datsyuk when the time comes, including Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. But if last season was any indication, the youngsters will still need to wait a while.