Red Wings’ playoff hopes rest on Datsyuk

What Detroit really needs is for Pavel Datsyuk to be the player he was for Team Russia against Team USA.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

It’s a hockey fan’s favorite time of year, with speculation, rumor and innuendo driving the NHL conversation.

With Wednesday’s trade deadline fast approaching, a few names have emerged as being linked to the Red Wings.

Native Detroiters David Legwand of Nashville and Ryan Kesler of Vancouver — both centers — along with one of Kesler’s teammate, defenseman Alexander Edler, have all been rumored to be on the Wings’ deadline-day acquisition list.

Although both Legwand and Kesler would provide the Wings with a much-needed second-line center, neither seems to be the right fit. Kesler would cost a bundle, and Legwand, an unrestricted free agent this July, goes against GM Ken Holland’s mandate that the Wings aren’t in the market for rent-a-players.

If the Wings make a deal, Edler seems to be the logical choice. He’s 27, stands 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 215 pounds. He’s also in the first year of a six-year deal that pays him $30 million, which is a big plus from the Wings’ perspective.

Edler is mobile, has a wicked shot from the point, logs a lot of minutes, is physical and excels at one-on-one play. Maybe best of all, he’s Swedish and would be welcomed with open arms to Sweden’s North American national team.

Remember, the Wings have been after a veteran defenseman since last summer’s free-agency period began.

However, no potential acquisition will help secure a playoff spot for the Wings more than one of their current stars. Their playoff streak of 22 consecutive seasons is in danger unless Pavel Datsyuk steps up and imposes his will on the NHL.

This isn’t a knock on Datsyuk. He’s been a tremendous talent for the Red Wings, but he’s always had a buffer during his career here — the luxury of not being the team’s front man.

In the beginning, it was Igor Larionov. He was Datsyuk’s mentor, and Datsyuk was Larionov’s shadow. Their relationship has been beneficial to the Wings in so many ways.

Afer Larionov retired, a myriad of players, led by Nick Lidstrom, had Datsyuk’s back. And since Lidstrom’s retirement, current captain and fellow Euro Twin Henrik Zetterberg has filled the role.

That said, even with a distinct language barrier, Datsyuk’s always been able to get his point across. His play speaks volumes.

But with Zetterberg out at least through the end of the regular season after back surgery, Datsyuk needs to bring move. And this isn’t about talking to the media; it’s about leading on and off the ice.

Without Zetterberg, Datsyuk needs to become the Wings’ focal point. He has to put everything aside and dominate the Wings’ remaining 22 games.

There are very few players who have the skill to control a hockey game from beginning to end. Datsyuk is one of them.

Lately, though, he’s been a bit of an enigma. Usually, an upbeat guy with a sharp wit that matches his highlight-reel play, he’s been sullen and edgy.

I’m not implying that Datsyuk is loafing. Far from it. But he seems preoccupied, and that’s not good for anybody. The Wings need their best player to regain his zest for the game.

Perhaps his health and the burden of being captain of Team Russia have had a negative effect upon on him. I don’t really know, but I do know that Datsyuk hasn’t been Datsyuk.

We can talk about the importance of other Red Wings players, specifically goalie Jimmy Howard and forward Johan Franzen. Yes, each of them must play well during the Wings’ quest for their 23rd straight playoff berth.

Unfortunately, as quickly as the Mule has become hot, he can just as quickly become cold, and Howard appears to be having a season that will be filled with ups and downs.

What Detroit really needs is for Datsyuk to be the player he was for Team Russia against Team USA. And they need it for the next 22 games.

Datsyuk is more than capable of delivering. The question is: Is he comfortable being alone in the spotlight instead of sharing it?