DETROIT – Pavel Datsyuk was back doing what he likes most when summer is over, skating with his Red Wing teammates at Joe Louis Arena.
“I’m happy here,” Datsyuk said Thursday as he joined a number of his teammates at Joe Louis Arena for an informal skate as they prepare for the opening of training camp next week in Traverse City. “I enjoy this time and every year it’s better and better.”
It’s the first time Datsyuk has skated with teammates since signing a three-year extension worth $22.5 million on June 18.
“Pav is one of the best players in the league, one of the top three players probably,” Niklas Kronwall said. “He keeps showing it year after year. To be able to get that (contract) taken care of early without it having be a distraction, it’s only beneficial for everybody. Nobody needs to wonder what’s going to happen with him. It’s good that was taken care of.”
Datsyuk, 35, has one-year left on a deal worth $6.7 million a season.
“It’s much easier so (I don’t have to) think too much, not making (a) decision,” Datsyuk said about the relief of getting a deal done before the season. “(I’m) just focusing (on hockey).”
The deal keeps Datsyuk in Detroit through the 2016-17 season.
“Kind of feels weird to talk about it now because it happened in the summertime but of course we’re really pleased to see he signed another three years,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “He’s a big part of this team, always has been and always will be.”
The new deal, which has an average salary-cap hit of $7.5 million, pays him $10 million in the first year and then $7 million in year two and $5.5 million the final year of the extension.
“The summer is too short, but now it’s (time to) forget about summer,” Datsyuk said. “(There is) lots of work.”
Initially, Wings coach Mike Babcock has Datsyuk and Zetterberg playing on a line together. But that’s something both players know may change just like it seems to do every season.
“It’s going to be fun, but every year (Babcock) says we (will) play together,” Datsyuk said. “In the beginning we (played) together a little and (then) they (broke) us (up).”
With the addition of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss this offseason it could keep those two together longer.
“We’ll see how long it lasts this year but we’re real excited that we’ll get a chance from the start again,” Zetterberg said. “I think also it’s a little bit up to us, too. We have to play good. If we don’t do that we’re probably going to be split up.”
Babcock has either Justin Abdelkader or Alfredsson playing alongside the long time teammates. Weiss and Johan Franzen will be two of the three forwards skating on the second line.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Zetterberg said. “I think the forward situation is a little different this year. We have a little more depth. That’s probably we can do that (play together).”
In Zetterberg’s rookie season (2002-03) got his first taste of playing on a line with Datsyuk. Brett Hull finished off the line.
“It’s kind of unique,” Zetterberg said. “That made it more special when he signed for another three years.”
Datsyuk made headlines when he made said his dream would be to finish his career in Russia, which many speculated meant leaving Detroit after this contract ran out.
“There’s no doubt if you were following different websites you were up to speed on what was being said out there but just talking to Pav it sounded like he was comfortable here,” Kronwall said. “He liked it here and he wanted to stay. I never had any doubts whatsoever.”
The star center has 767 points in 11 regular seasons and 103 points in 140 playoff games.
Datsyuk, who was selected in the sixth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by the Wings, has won two Stanley Cups with the Wings (2002 and 2008). He’s also a four-time NHL All-Star and was a nominee for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 2009.
Datsyuk’s won the Lady Byng Trophy, which is awarded for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct, four consecutive seasons (2006-09) and he Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) three times (2008, 2009, 2010).