Is Pavel Datsyuk returning to Red Wings a real possibility?

Pavel Datsyuk during a stop in play against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Five during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 21, 2016 in Tampa. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

DETROIT - Rumors of Pavel Datsyuk returning the NHL have been getting louder and louder this year.

That's because his contract, which the Red Wings traded to the Arizona Coyotes in 2016, is about to expire this summer. Datsyuk left for Russia's KHL that year, where he's been ever since.

However, Datsyuk, now 40, just ended his career with the KHL's St. Petersburg SKA, meaning a return to North America would be possible as soon as this upcoming NHL season. He'll be a free agent this summer.

Hockey insider Elliotte Friedman was quick to tweet this week:

"Pavel Datsyuk announces the SKA portion of his career is completed. Under Ken Holland, there had been discussion of a possible return to DET for next season. He is due in Michigan soon; we'll see where it goes."

In January, his agent, Dan Milstein, said a bunch of stuff to Russian media about Datsyuk's possible return, including the following key points:

  • Datsyuk, 40, is not done playing hockey any time soon. He wants to keep playing, whether that's in the KHL, where he's currently playing in his 3rd season with St. Petersburg SKA, or back in the NHL.
  • If he does decide to return to the NHL, it would have to be with the Red Wings. "It would be right to return precisely to Detroit," is how it translates. "His skill and vision of the game has not disappeared anywhere ... It would be nice and right for Pasha to return to North America."
  • The decision is up to Datsyuk, his agent said.

Because he's still such a force on the ice in the Russian league (12G, 30A in 54 games this season), and because people miss him so much in North America, rumors of Datsyuk's return inevitably started swirling pretty much the day he left Detroit in 2016. The rumors especially picked up after his SKA teammate Ilya Kovalchuk returned to the NHL this past summer when he signed with the Los Angeles Kings.

Newly-named Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman, who now faces a rebuilding project, could have another tough decision to make soon about someone also beloved by the fanbase. Or is it an easy one?

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