DETROIT -- Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch believes his team addressed its top priority by signing center Pavel Datsyuk to a 7-year contract extension.
"Everyone in the organization wanted him to stay with us,''
The move Friday underscored the team's time-honored tradition of doggedly scouting far-flung talent -- in Datsyuk's case, Russia's Siberia region -- and reinvesting in proven performers.
For a team like the Red Wings, whose perennial success restricts their access to top NHL draft picks, signing Datsyuk was seen as
crucial, particularly in the salary cap era.
"If he leaves this summer ... we're going to probably spend
more money on a player that we don't like as much as Pavel,'' said Steve Yzerman, Datsyuk's former teammate and current team vice president. "You really have to be certain, and really know your player. And if you believe in them tie them up. We believe in Pavel.''
Datsyuk, who leads the Wings with 87 points -- 27 goals and 60 assists -- has gotten better each year since making his debut with the Wings during the 2001-02 season. As a rookie he had 11 goals and 24 assists in 70 games and raised the Stanley Cup at season's end. He managed 51 and 68 points the next two seasons, before playing with Moscow Dynamo during 2004-05 when NHL players were locked out.
In 2005-06, Datsyuk had 28 goals and 59 assists, but posted a
disappointing three assists in a five-game upset loss to Edmonton in the first round of the playoffs.
Terms of the deal weren't immediately made available. A message seeking comment was left with Gary Greenstin, Datsyuk's agent.
Datsyuk is making $3.9 million this season, said team spokesman John Hahn. He would have been an unrestricted free agent July 1.
"This contract was extremely important to me,'' Datsyuk said.
"Especially since I have been a Red Wing since 2001.''
General manager Ken Holland said Datsyuk's deal represents the
longest contract extension in team history. He said signing a homegrown player of Datsyuk's caliber was crucial.
"We think that Pavel is coming into the prime of his career,''
"In the end we felt very comfortable with a long-term
commitment to Pavel.''
Ilitch singled out Yzerman, the team's longtime captain, for his
insistence that the Red Wings' management retain Datsyuk.
"We felt it was extremely important to lock this player up for
as long as we can,'' Yzerman said during an afternoon news conference at Joe Louis Arena. Yzerman added that Datsyuk represents the Red Wings' future.
The Wings lost 3-2 in a shootout Thursday night in Chicago, but clinched their sixth straight Central Division title thanks to the point they earned in the game. Detroit needs one more point to secure its third consecutive Western Conference title and first in the post-Yzerman era.