The man himself announced the move on his Twitter feed on Wednesday, posting a pic of him wearing Avto’s red jersey with the caption ‘Lyubimy Yekaterinburg!’ (My beloved Yekaterinburg!).
For Datsyuk, a Triple Gold Club member following his part in the Russian Olympic success last February, the move fulfils an oft-stated ambition to return home before the end of his playing career. After confirming his departure from SKA St. Petersburg at the end of the season, Avtomobilist was quick to spot its opportunity. The ambitious Ural club, which topped the KHL’s Eastern Conference in regular season play, made its move and brought the former Detroit Red Wing back home.
Club director Maxim Ryabkov was quick to dismiss suggestions that the deal was a PR move rather than a sporting one. “The most important thing for the club is that Pavel has a real desire to come back to Yekaterinburg,” he told Sport24. “When you look at his production last season, his numbers at SKA would have made him the best Russian player at Avtomobilist. This isn’t some kind of PR stunt; we’re bringing him here to play a high level of hockey.”
Recent seasons have brought a change of emphasis to hockey in Yekaterinburg. High profile signings last summer brought Nigel Dawes, Dan Sexton and Stephane da Costa to the club, alongside experienced Czech goalie Jakub Kovar and Russian talents like Nikita Tryamkin and Anatoli Golyshev. That helped Avtomobilist to its best ever season in the KHL, dominating the Eastern Conference in regular season play before bowing out in the second round of the playoffs against Salavat Yulayev Ufa.
“Pavel is really motivated, and we hope that together we can achieve even better results than last season,” added Ryabkov. “We will continue to monitor the market but there definitely won’t be another signing like Pavel – he is unique. The current roster is fully capable of meeting the expectations of our sponsors.”
For GM Oleg Gross, it’s a signing based purely on what Datsyuk can do on the ice. “Datsyuk is a professional, he knows how to manage the risk of injury,” Gross told Championat. “We’re counting on him as a talented player, we’ve brought him here for his hockey. If he attracts more fans, that’s great, but the bottom line is that we want results. We know he’s not getting any younger, but he is still a skilled, talented player.”
Datsyuk previously played in Yekaterinburg in the 1990s. As a youngster he worked his way through the ranks at Avtomobilist and made his top-flight Russian debut with the club – briefly renamed Spartak – in 1996/97. He spent three more seasons in the city representing Dynamo-Energiya (another name change) before joining Ak Bars Kazan and then leaving for Detroit. In total, Datsyuk played 75 top-flight games for his hometown club, scoring 34 (16+19) points. He also represented Dynamo Moscow and CSKA Moscow during NHL lock-outs before signing for SKA St. Petersburg in 2016.
In the NHL he spent his entire career with Detroit, twice winning the Stanley Cup (2002, 2008) and collecting four Lady Byng awards and three Frank J. Selke Trophies. He scored 918 points in 953 regular season games for the Red Wings, with a further 113 in 157 play-off outings. Last season he had 42 (12+30) points in 54 games for SKA, with a further 7 (1+6) in 12 play-off appearances, confirming that even after his 40th birthday there was still some of the old magic about his game.
That alerted several other clubs to his availability, with teams in the KHL and NHL alike reportedly keen to acquire the veteran centre. Datsyuk’s agent, Dan Millstein, told TASS: “There were a lot of [NHL] clubs calling me about Pavel, during the pre-draft tests several GMs came to talk to me. But if he had wanted to go back to the NHL, he would only have gone to Detroit.
“Similarly, in Russia Pavel was only interested in the offer from Avtomobilist, even though there were other proposals on the table.”
Ryabkov paid tribute to his man’s integrity during the transfer negotiations. “There was genuine interest from Detroit,” he told Sport Express. “But we should give Pavel his due. His priority was to do what he has publicly declared for many years – to play for his hometown team. Datsyuk kept his word, and we’re eagerly looking forward to the start of the season and the moment when he can take to the ice in the colours of Avtomobilist.”
The Triple Gold Club member won Olympic gold (2018), a World Championship (2012), two Stanley Cups (2002, 2008) and two Russian titles (2005, 2017).