The Detroit Red Wings cleared $7.5 million in salary cap space for the 2016-17 season on Friday, trading the contract of retired forward Pavel Datsyuk along with the 16th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft to the Arizona Coyotes for the 20th overall pick, the 53rd overall pick, and forward Joe Vitale.
Datsyuk announced last Saturday that he would not return to the Red Wings for the final year of his three-year contract, choosing instead to retire from the NHL and play in his native Russia so he could be closer to his family. As the contract is an “over-35” deal, the Red Wings would have been stuck with his salary cap hit for a season.
Instead, Detroit unloaded the contract by moving down four spots in the first round, also managing to add a second-rounder and Vitale.
Vitale played only one game in the 2015-16 season with the Coyotes, suffering a concussion in a fight with Boston’s Kevan Miller. He spent the rest of the year on long-term injured reserve, with no sign as to when he might return. With one year left on his contract, he may never play for the Red Wings, remaining on LTIR. If he remains on injured reserve, the Red Wings will be able to use his cap space on another player.
With Datsyuk’s contract off the books, the team is now free to make a run at a big-name free agent when NHL free agency opens on July 1.