To hear Ken Holland explain it, you have to respect the player’s wishes — even if the player isn’t at full health.
That’s what the Detroit Red Wings GM said on Monday regarding the Olympic participation of Pavel Datsyuk, set to play for Team Russia despite dealing with what’s believed to be a significant lower-body injury.
“He’s probably been preparing for this tournament for five or six years when it was announced that it was coming to Russia,” Holland said of Datsyuk, who will captain the Russians in Sochi. “I’m sure if he couldn’t play, he won’t play.
“Is he 100 percent? Probably not, but there are probably other players in this tournament who aren’t 100 percent.”
Datsyuk didn’t practice with his Russian teammates on Monday and, in his two games prior to the Olympic break, played sparingly for Detroit (13:34 against the Panthers and then 14:46 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.) Considering Datsyuk usually averages over 21 per game and plays center, it was odd to see him play under 15, and mostly on a wing with Darren Helm and Daniel Alfredsson.
“I didn’t play in one month, and it’s a little bit easier playing at wing,” Datsyuk explained, per the Globe and Mail. (Datsyuk missed 14 straight games following the Winter Classic with the lower-body ailment.)
On Monday, Detroit head coach Mike Babcock tried to put Datsyuk’s health issues into perspective.
“Pavel is a proud Russian, who has come home to win a medal for his country and he’s going to do everything he can to do that,” Babcock explained. “He’s been injured but he’s on his way back from injury. There is some opportunity here, with the way the tournament is set up, for him to spend more time feeling better.”
“It’s been two tough nights (of travel) so I don’t think whether he practiced or not today is any indication (of his fitness).”
These Winter Games are of huge importance to the Russian players, and Datsyuk is no exception. He turns 36 in July and, given his age and the uncertainty surrounding NHLers playing in the next Olympics, this could be his last kick at the can. There’s also a great sense of responsibility — while plenty of focus and pressure is on Alex Ovechkin, it’s Datsyuk who’s captaining the team.
As such, it would take a fairly catastrophic injury to keep him off the ice. Holland acknowledged this, and trusted that Datsyuk is wise enough to properly gauge his health.
From a team standpoint, we have to respect that there’s an agreement in place and respect that the player knows his body better than anybody else, and that he’s making the right decision.”