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Datsyuk Thanks Fans, Bids NHL Farewell

By: Will Burchfield

Less than a month after announcing his retirement from the NHL, Pavel Datsyuk has officially moved on to the next phase of his career.

The 37-year-old center signed a contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL on Friday. Per Aaron Ward, the deal is worth $7.6 million over two years.

Datsyuk was slated to earn $5.5 million in the final year of his contract with the Red Wings, but chose to return home instead. It was a move he had been seriously contemplating since playing in Russia during the 2012-13 NHL lockout, and ultimately the lure of the motherland was too strong to resist.

In the wake of Friday's news, Datsyuk took to Facebook to thank everyone who supported him during his long and splendid NHL career.

To the benefit of Datsyuk's Red Wing legacy, GM Ken Holland was able to unload his cap hit at a relatively minor cost. That ensured that his departure wouldn't leave the team in a financial bog moving forward, a predicament for which Datsyuk certainly would have been blamed.

Holland's savvy – and, let's be honest, the Coyotes' lack of it – allows us to celebrate Datsyuk's career without condemning the way it came to a close. And that's a good thing because, man, what a career it was. It would have been sad to see it marred by a messy ending.

By the same token, Datsyuk's letter feels sincerer than it may have under different circumstances. Rather than coming off as an attempt to save face, it feels like an honest gesture of gratitude. This, no doubt, is what it would have been either way, but the surrounding context helps us take in his message without a disillusioned gaze.

Datsyuk's farewell echoed his style of play: graceful but understated, selfless but earnest. He never asked for the spotlight, but his ability commanded it. He wasn't concerned with personal statistics, but wanted fiercely to win. It was a proper way to say goodbye.

If there was one note that felt off-key, though, it was this: "Ken and the entire organization have always treated me well and he, together with all of the organization, are a major reason why every player in the league wants to play in Detroit."

The latter half of that statement was certainly true when Datsyuk first arrived in Detroit. And it maintained a measure of validity through the Wings' 2008 Stanley Cup championship. But it is not true anymore. Just ask Steven Stamkos.

Still, that is a small objection to an otherwise elegant farewell. The Magic Man left the NHL the same way he conquered it: with class.

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