Pavel Datsyuk has filled the void in the middle of Detroit's top line
Early in training camp, as the Red Wings adjusted to life without star Sergei Fedorov—who like fellow center Igor Larionov left Detroit as a free agent last summer—right wing Brett Hull took young center Pavel Datsyuk aside for a talk. For the first time in more than a decade, the center position was a potential weakness on the team. The Red Wings needed Datsyuk, a 25-year-old Russian who had scored 12 goals and added 39 assists last season, his second in the league, to play a larger offensive role. "Sergei's not here anymore," Hull told his linemate. "Now you're the man."
Datsyuk's grasp of English is shaky, but Hull's message got through. Datsyuk has been Detroit's best player. The two goals he scored in a 5-1 win over the Capitals last Saturday were his career-high 16th and 17th of the season. With 37 points at week's end Datsyuk led the league in scoring and was the main reason the injury-riddled Wings had won seven of their last 10 games to climb into first place in the Central Division. "Pavel has taken a gigantic step forward," says G.M. Ken Holland. "He seems to be getting better every game."
Datsyuk, who had 35 points in 70 games as a rookie in 2001-02, emerged as a highly skilled playmaker when he was moved to Hull's line midway through last season. This year, spurred on by the need to fill the void left by Fedorov's departure, Datsyuk has broken out of the mold of the classic European center. Instead of looking to pass as the first option, he aggressively seeks scoring chances, crashing the net and shooting the puck more than he did in the past.
Coach Dave Lewis has rewarded him with additional ice time and by featuring him on the power-play and penalty-killing units. The extra work is also tied to the club's battered lineup. (Nine regulars did not play against Washington.) Thanks to Datsyuk, those injuries haven't hurt the team too much. Says defenseman Mathieu Schneider, "You take him out of our lineup, and there's no way we're where we are in the standings."
The Oilers' Ransom Demand
Comrie Won't Pay for Freedom
Last week the Oilers were close to a trade that would have delivered 23-year-old unsigned center Mike Comrie to the Ducks for a prospect and a first-round pick in next year's draft. Comrie even agreed to a two-year, $3.45 million contract with Anaheim—less than he would have accepted from the Oilers, with whom negotiations had become acrimonious. But on Dec. 10 the deal blew up after an unprecedented demand by Edmonton G.M. Kevin Lowe: that Connie pay the Oilers $2.5 million in cash to help the team sign his replacement.
Comrie, who Lowe had hoped would be so desperate to leave the organization that he would acquiesce to the demand, refused to pay, and as of Sunday he was still Edmonton property. Said Lowe, "I don't expect everybody to side with me, but it's the spirit of the idea."