Two Detroit Icons Leave Too Soon

The Detroit Red Wings and Lions each lost a game-changing superstar this past offseason. Pavel Datsyuk and Calvin Johnson retired from their respective sports.

I am 20 years old, so with Datsyuk starting his career in 2002, and Johnson in 2007, I grew up watching and idolizing these two athletes, as I Imagine many children and teenagers in Michigan did. If you couldn’t already tell, the day they decided to call it quits was a sad one for me, and they happened to occur in the same year.

Although they knew it was coming for a while, and they made well-thought out decisions, many people believed they left us with much to be desired.

Time to go home

Datsyuk was 38 years old at the time of his retirement and still had one year left on his contract with the Red Wings at an annual salary cap hit of $7.5 million. Even though Datsyuk won’t see any of that money, he signed his contract when he was 35, and the NHL has a clause where if a team signs a player age 35 or older, that team is responsible for the entirety of the contract — even if that player retires. So, in a salary cap league where every dollar counts, Datsyuk left the Wings in quite the money crunch.

Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland needed to find a way to dump that money so he could acquire a player or two through free agency to replace Datsyuk. In the 2016 NHL Draft, Holland did just that. The Arizona Coyotes took on Datsyuk’s contract so they could reach the salary cap floor — the minimum amount a team can spend as it relates to the league’s $73 million cap. In return, the Red Wings gave Arizona their 16th overall pick in the draft, while taking back the Coyotes 20th pick. This was an excellent move by Holland and I’m sure it took a lot of weight off of Datsyuk’s shoulders. The Red Wings this season are hovering around .500 and are in jeopardy of seeing their 25-year playoffs streak end.

Datsyuk had an outstanding career, winning Stanley Cups in 2002 and 2008, and also winning the Lady Byng Trophy for most gentlemanly play four years in a row. Datsyuk’s family lives in Russia, and he felt it was time to go back to his home country and spend more time with his children. He wowed us with his unbelievable dekes and takeaways and was regarded as one of the toughest players to play against by many of his peers.

Another great Lion calls it quits

Calvin Johnson, 30, retired much earlier in his career. Football can take a huge toll on your body, and that was the main factor for his retirement, especially with all the talk now about concussions and CTE in football players. Johnson was drafted second overall by the Lions in 2007 and was part of many losing teams, including the 2008 0-16 team. The Lions made the playoffs twice in his career but never won a playoff game. The Lions this season are a top contender in their division and have a great chance of making the playoffs.

Johnson now joins Barry Sanders as Lions superstars who cut their career short due to health and possibly team performance. However, Johnson holds the NFL record for most receiving yards in a single season (1,964 in 2012), he was a six-time Pro Bowler and three-time all-pro. Already one of the greatest receivers in league history, had Johnson continued playing, he may have been considered the greatest ever at his position. Johnson was very humble and was loved by all Detroit sports fans. He seems to be handling life after football quite well, as he is in the final round on ABC’s hit show, “Dancing with the Stars.”

Although the ‘Magic Man’ (Datsyuk) and ‘Megatron’ (Johnson) may have left the game sooner than fans would have liked, the possible future Hall of Famers will have a long-lasting legacy in the city of Detroit and in the entire sports world.