Welcome to the internet, official home of the dichotomy. Twitter commentary and the gratification that comes with instantaneous analysis means the middle ground has been eradicated from our lives. We can glue the goat horns on anyone well before a game is lost. We can praise a player for a step forward well before they take their two steps back. And we love it.
What follows from this is all players are lumped into a love ‘em or hate ‘em category. Think of the best players in the world. You will find that 99.9999% of them fall well short of a unanimous opinion. Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, the Sedin twins, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, etc. Go down the list and it is apparent that there are plenty of human beings who are not ‘avin what these guys are bringin’.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em? Do or do not. There is no try.
I would like to posit, however, that there is one throwback left. The one player left in this generation who we can all agree on. Who we all watch while we sit back and smirk and think “Yeah, this guy. He’s awesome.”
Have you ever met someone with vitriol for Pavel Datsyuk? I haven’t. You get moments where you’ll find an emotionally distraught individual furious that Datsyuk skated through their entire team to tie the game with a minute left and then put their goalie’s jockstrap in Row Q for the shootout game winner, but the narrative never leaves the “Damn him, I want him,” story arc.
Ironically enough, the Red Wings seem to breed these guys. Nick Lidstrom got nothing but admiration from fans and it appears that he won’t be leaving any void beyond that of “absolutely immaculate defenceman in every way possible.” Datsyuk will be there to soak up the love.
The reality of Datsyuk as an NHLer is that he is among the top 1% in talent, he is among the top 1% in decoration and he is absolutely well liked by everyone. He comes across as nothing but a top notch human being.
For those of you who would like a little insight into Datsyuk — “The Man” — The Hockey News’ Rory Boylen did a great series on Datsyuk’s camp in Ekaterinburg, Russia — Datsyuk’s hometown — which pulled back the veil on an otherwise reticent individual.
Here’s a clip from part one to give you a sense of how the man, myth, legend goes about his business:
And it was all made possible by Datsyuk. Ask anyone here about him and you’ll quickly get an idea of his selfless, down-to-earth nature. He doesn’t seek to be treated like an NHL superstar – on the contrary, he just wants to be one of the guys.
Which he is, making the experience not just special for the kids, but enlightening for the instructors as well.
“Just a couple months ago Pav was at a Bass Pro Shop in Detroit and he saw some kid there who looked like me,” said T.J. Aubrecht, a former American high school varsity player who also played a year with the Minnesota Junior League’s Hudson Crusaders.
“He asked the kid if he could take a picture with him and sent it to me with the caption ‘I didn’t know you were working at the Pro Bass Shop in Detroit.’ That was pretty cool for me because I didn’t expect him to be thinking about me throughout the year. I’ll remember that for a while.”
All of this underscores how spectacular Datsyuk, as a figure, is. Let’s flash back to my earlier point. We currently live in an age of analysis that spontaneously anoints titles and changes opinion without hesitation.
To invoke an example from another sport, consider that baseball’s Mike Trout of the Anaheim Angels was written off by several drive-by analysts as a ‘bust’ after a tough first week in the majors this year. As of today, he could become the third person to ever hit 30 home runs and steal 50 bases in a season. Did I mention he recently turned 21? There was definitely no hope for this guy and thanks to the prophet in my fantasy league who believed the panning and dropped him.
Online mediums that express thoughts and opinions bring about truly spectacular levels of spontaneity and vindictiveness. Sports can crank that to 11.
Yet somehow Datsyuk has found a way to emerge from all of this unscathed after vanquishing his one-time reputation as a playoff phantom. Much of his former distinction can be attributed to the stereotypical Russian xenophobic garbage many North American analysts spew. Mercifully, for those of us who know better, we have passed it with Datsyuk. We’re at a point where we can just sit back, watch and smile.
How his career is ultimately seen in the context of history will need to be sorted out by time. Right now he is easily one of the most spectacular players of this generation and surely a hall of fame lock. The best part? We all agree on it. There is no caveat. Crosby is phenomenal but a crybaby. Ovechkin is dynamic but a clown. Datsyuk is Datsyuk and that’s all we need to know.
There are certain players which lend themselves to anecdotes passed down from parent to child. The “Now this guy, this was a hell of a player, it’s too bad you missed him,” line of storytelling. I can surely speak to what it was like being reminded I never had a chance to watch a Bobby Orr or Borje Salming or Mike Bossy.
It certainly looks as though the next generation will rue the fact that they missed the chance to see Pavel Datsyuk. Luckily YouTube should still be around to document all the times he went Backhand Shelf… shorthanded no less.
In philosophy, ‘the sublime’ in the discussion of aesthetics generally refers to a greatness beyond the grasp of reason or calculation. Hit the replay button a few more times and you’ll understand that is very much what we’re dealing with here. Pavel Datsyuk carries a something with him that is beyond our reasoning or ability to work it out.
Pavel is greatness. You know it. I know it. Long live Pavel.