The Malik Report
As Red Wings GM Ken Holland discussed the implications of Brian Rafalski’s early retirement in terms of building the Wings’ blueline going forward, he never suggested that the Wings would overpay for an Ehroff, Wisniewski, Bieska, Pitkanen, etc., suggesting to MLive’s Ansar Khan that it’s entirely possible that the Wings could sign two defensemen if they wish to spread their salary-capped dollars around. That being said, the Wings do believe that the team needs to replace Rafalski’s offensive production, which kind of makes the theory posited by the Hockey News’s Adam Proteau a moot point:
The Red Wings had no trouble with their offense this year, finishing second in the league in goals-for per game (3.13). On the other hand, their goals-against average was considerably worse (2.89 goals per game, 23rd in the NHL). They don’t need a puck-moving, offense-generating type. They need a defensive defenseman, someone you wouldn’t have to break the bank on and pay the same amount as Rafalski.
I mean, what, are you going to spend $5 million of your cap space on Joni Pitkanen? He’s one of the top unrestricted free agent blueliners on the market, but here’s what one veteran hockey observer recently said about him:
“There’s a bit of a misunderstanding about this player,” said an NHL GM, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I don’t think he’s as much of a high-end offensive player as he is an all-around, puck-moving guy. I guess if he played for Washington or one of those high-powered teams, 40 or 50 points (a season) wouldn’t be out of the question. But if you’re expecting him to carry the load on your power play or be your big point guy, I don’t think that’s him.”
Brian Rafalski chose to leave the Red Wings and the NHL behind with his back and faith intact on Wednesday, retiring in a press conference which revealed more about Rafalski’s character than we may have ever known during his career. His departure leaves the Wings crossing their fingers and toes regarding Nicklas Lidstrom’s return and at least certain that Ken Holland won’t fire off an offer sheet in an attempt to acquire Rafalski’s de-facto replacement via poaching a restricted free agent…
But there’s no denying that Rafalski can’t be replaced in terms of his experience, adaptability to any situation, consistent offensive production regardless of his partner or especially in terms of his intelligence, and while I know that some of Rafalski’s comments were divisive, the man was just sharing his beliefs while keeping himself composed—and as Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner suggests, that was the strangest part of his retirement:
Brian Rafalski was an athlete who labeled himself. He was unique from the standpoint that once the game was over, he left. If you could catch him before he bolted for the parking lot, he was more than willing to answer every question. It wasn’t a dislike or phobia towards the media, Rafalski was just his own man.
Perhaps it’s his Metro Detroit upbringing that made him develop the blue-collar attitude of, “This is my job. I did it to the best of my ability, and now I’m off. See you tomorrow.”
During his Wednesday press conference at Joe Louis Arena, where he announced his retirement from the game, Rafalski was extremely upbeat. There weren’t any tears or even a slight pause to collect his emotions. It was the happiest retirement press conference I’ve ever attended.
Visitation is 2-9 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday at Vermeulen Funeral Home, 46401 W. Ann Arbor Rd., Plymouth. The memorial service is 11 a.m. Saturday at Northridge Church, 49555 N. Territorial Rd., Plymouth. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Big E Foundation. Jenkins’ nickname was Big E. The family asks all hockey players attending the memorial service Saturday wear their jerseys.
Charity hockey games are scheduled at 2 p.m. Saturday at Compuware Arena to benefit the foundation. Donations of used hockey equipment will be collected. For information, go to www.banditsgoaltending.com
Updated 4x at 10:27 with a slick Rosenberg article: So Brian Rafalski chose to retire today, and while several comments made during his press conference ruffled some feathers (guessing by the 100 comments in my email inbox from the past three hours alone), it’s hard to begrudge someone for saying a little too much when he’s emotionally stressed, and, perhaps moreover, I admire the man for choosing to simply say goodbye when his priorities had changed instead of playing out the string and collecting an extra $6 million.
Now the Red Wings are eagerly awaiting news from Nicklas Lidstrom regarding his future, and they hope to at least re-sign Jonathan Ericsson. After that, as DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose notes, the Wings are more likely than not to attempt to fill Rafalski’s skates via free agency:
“Free agency is a wonderful thing. That’s how we got Rafi,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Rafi said it himself, ‘That they’re going to have to fill the hole.’ And we plan on doing that. I don’t know how. But we’re going to do it.”
As of now, the Wings have Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Jakub Kindl and Doug Janik under contract for the 2011-12 season. They would also like to see how prospect Brendan Smith progresses in training camp.
“Certainly we need to overhaul our defense,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “Either through trade (or) at the draft when there’s going to be trades. Not a lot of teams are trading defense, most teams are looking for defense. We’ll probably really have to set our sights on July 1.”
A relatively weak unrestricted free-agent class means general managers may have to get more creative this summer in how they spend money. One option is signing a restricted free agent and the new changes in compensation, obtained by Sporting News, may make that option more attractive.
“Find a team that is near the cap and you can really (mess) with them,” one NHL source said.
The numbers and compensation are tied to the average league salary, which is $2.3 million.
2011 restricted free agent compensation
Updated at 1:49 PM with Ansar Khan’s report: Via Paul and ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Red Wings GM Ken Holland provides us with an update as to Nicklas Lidstrom’s status...
“He’s going to let me know before the draft,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com on Wednesday. “I think he wants to make sure that he feels comfortable about whatever decision he makes. Obviously, we’re hoping he wants to come back. We’re sitting here with our fingers crossed hoping he does come back.”
Most people in and around the Wings believe Lidstrom will return, but it will be interesting to see how the 41-year-old future Hall of Fame defenseman views losing his longtime defensive partner, Rafalski. Does Lidstrom see it as a step backward for the organization, or does he trust one of the game’s great GMs in Holland to fill that hole and keep the Wings’ powerhouse intact? While the hockey world awaits Lidstrom’s decision, the Red Wings must deal with the loss of Rafalski. The 37-year-old Rafalski walks away from another year left on his deal at $6 million.
“It took me totally by surprise,” Holland said. “He had 48 points in 63 games this year and was a plus-11. When you factor in how productive he was and had another year at $6 million, I was very surprised by his decision.”
Updated 11x at 2:32 PM: Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski made his retirement official this morning, choosing to speak from a lecturn at Joe Louis Arena’s Olympia Club and then exit with his wife instead of doing one-on-one interviews. Rafalski joked that there were no telepropters available until 2012, so he spoke via notes from his iPad, and he stated that he’d chosen to retire 2 months ago, but kept the decision to himself and his wife; he stated that he’s not sure whether he’s going to spend his post-retirement days in Detroit; he suggested that he was injured all year long, stating that he spent every day on the trainer’s table, meaning that a big part of his decision to retire involved injuries, but he also said that his oldest son becoming a high school freshman played into his decision…As did God. Lots and lots and lots of God.
Rafalski repeatedly thanked the Lord and said that his top priorities involved serving God, serving his family and serving others, and if hockey’s not in the top three, it’s time to go. Rafalski was clearly uncomfortable speaking to a big gathering of press corps, so he wrapped his retirement presser’s comments in religion, as if that was what he could lean upon to keep his poise and not tear up. After the presser, he left the talking to Ken Holland, Jim Nill and Mike Babcock.
Here’s a survey of the “Tweets” sent during the presser, with updates and stories to come:
Update: The presser won’t air till 11:10 AM due to inclement weather (seriously): Both the Detroit News and the Red Wings’ website have posted links to live feeds of Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski’s retirement presser. Here’s the Wings’ presser feed:
Via the Mississauga News’s Stuart McComish, Red Wings legend Ted Lindsay recalled his tenure with the St. Michael’s Majors—in 1944—while visiting the Memorial Cup on Tuesday:
“I was 17 when I left home to go play at St. Mike’s,” said Lindsay, who was honoured Tuesday night with a banner unveiling before the Memorial Cup round-robin game between the Kootenay Ice and the Saint John Sea Dogs. “You’re at an age then when you know more than anyone in the world. You know more than your parents. But they gave me good values. St. Mike’s wasn’t a long part of my life, but it was a very important part of my life. The Basilian fathers were great men and great teachers. I had wonderful parents, but when I went to St. Mike’s the fathers were my parents.”
Lindsay played the 1944 season with the Majors, but they lost to the Generals in the Ontario Hockey Association finals. The rules at that time allowed a team in the Memorial Cup to bring in four players as military replacements. The Generals did just that adding Lindsay, Johnny Marois, David Bauer and Gus Mortson for their series against the Trail Smoke Eaters.
“You know hockey people, they write all their rules in pencil so they can change them whenever they want,” said Lindsay, who turns 86 in July 25. “It was near the end of the war and teams were allowed to bring in military replacements at that time. We went and played for Oshawa against the Trail Smoke Eaters who were supposed to be the greatest team to come out of the west.”
Lindsay also offered a blunt assessment of the state of the NHL game:
At 11 AM this morning, the Red Wings will air a press conference announcing that Brian Rafalski is retiring at 36 years of age on DetroitRedWings.com (if their feed is wonky, the Detroit News and probably Fox 2, WDIV and several other outlets will stream the presser), and while Ken Holland and Brian Rafalski are supposed to make an “announcement” about Rafalski’s “future,” the fact that the Wings’ website has already posted a 62-image gallery stating, “Rafalski Retires, May 25, 2011.”
We know what’s going to happen today, but we don’t know what’s going to happen afterward as the Wings attempt to replace a 45-to-55-point producing, puck-moving defenseman who blazed the trail for every NHL defenseman with loads of talent but sub-5’10” size younger than Rafalski. Three Stanley Cups and two silver Olympic medals proved the mettle of a borderline HOF’er on his legacy alone, and it was writing a blurb about the Wings’ 1997 Stanley Cup championship for KK’s Patrick Hoffman‘s other venture, the Red Light District Hockey Blog, that made me realize that the Red Wings will do one and only one thing with Rafalski’s $6 million in cap space:
About The Malik Report
The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.