NHL

Pavel Datsyuk leaving Detroit Red Wings, returning to play in Russia

Pavel Datsyuk is leaving the Detroit Red Wings and the NHL. The Russian hockey star made the announcement on Saturday that he was leaving the league with one year left on his contract.

Superstar, 37, has spent his entire career with Red Wings

Pavel Datsyuk made his departure from the National Hockey League official on Saturday. (Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

Pavel Datsyuk is leaving the Detroit Red Wings with a year left on his contract, saying it's time to go back home and play in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League.

The 37-year-old Datsyuk announced his plans Saturday at a news conference at his youth hockey camp in the Detroit area.

"My family and I are grateful for our time here in Detroit," Datsyuk said. "This was not an easy decision, but it's time for us to return home."

The move was not a huge surprise. Toward the end of the season, he was quoted in a Detroit Free Press story saying he would retire from the NHL, but Datsyuk later told reporters there was a chance he could change his mind. He said Saturday his final decision came when he was on vacation with his family recently.

Even though he's headed overseas, Datsyuk will count $7.5 million against Detroit's salary cap next season, unless the Red Wings can trade the cap hit elsewhere.

General manager Ken Holland said he's not willing to give up one of Detroit's top young players just to free up that cap space for this coming off-season.

Datsyuk had one year remaining on a three-year, $22.5 million contract. He agreed to that deal in June 2013, with one year remaining on his previous contract. Holland said Saturday that almost immediately after his new deal began in 2014, Datsyuk expressed a desire to leave the NHL.

"In the first year of that deal, about September or October, Pav told me that was his last year in the National Hockey League, that he wanted to go home," said Holland, who spoke with reporters at Joe Louis Arena a couple of hours after Datsyuk's announcement.

Although the Red Wings could not have prevented Datsyuk from retiring, they were prepared to prevent him from playing in the KHL. Datsyuk agreed to stay in Detroit for the 2015-16 season, and now Holland says he's fine with the veteran centre playing wherever he wants overseas next season.

"We're in a tough spot," Holland said. "But I'd rather be in a tough spot with Pav gone for one year, then if he would have left last year, we would have been having this conversation a year ago with him having two years to go on his contract, and two years of cap space."

Datsyuk had 49 points, ranking second on the team, in 66 games during this past regular season.

Datsyuk, a native of Sverdlovsk, Russia, says he intends to play in the KHL. He did not say for how much longer.

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