The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/25/11 at 07:46 AM ET
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:
They’re going to fulfill the promise that Ken Holland and Jim Nill made to each other in 1999, after the Wings had been eliminated by the Avs in the first round, realizing that Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan wouldn’t play forever, and as such, the team had to build around Nicklas Lidstrom and puck-moving defensemen while stopping its tendency to trade 1st round draft picks like there’s no tomorrow.
In other words, the Wings will spend that money (or a little less) on the best available unrestricted free agent defenseman who fits into the Red Wings’ 11-year-old blueprint. They’re gonna get the best puck-moving defenseman out there, and while he may not fetch a $6 million salary, the Wings are ready to spend the money necessary to bring him to Detroit. The only questions involve which of the crop of unrestricted free agents-to-be will make the market, and which one the Wings believe best fits into their system of play. That’s how Ken Holland and the Red Wings do things, and that’s that.
You and me can also guess right now that the Wings are, if they haven’t already, told Nicklas Lidstrom that if his family is willing to allow him to continue to play, they need him for at least one more season, and that Rafalski’s departure means that keeping Jonathan Ericsson, big boo boos and brain cramps included, has probably reached high-priority status.
If the Wings don’t plan on shopping for that big, forechecking forward that I believe they need to keep up with the Clowes of the world via the free agent bargain bin in late July or early August, they’re probably going to have to move somebody (Hudler?) or not re-sign someone to get him.
I’m guessing—and this is educated guessing—that the Wings will probably allow Lidstrom to remain the Wings’ highest-paid player (he’s earned it), will sign their unrestricted free agent for, at most, slightly less than or equal to Lidstrom’s salary (Lidstrom’s sure as hell a $6 million player), they’ll try to keep Ericsson, let Jakub Kindl play as the team’s #6 guy and either go with Janik (who’s got a one-way contract and would have to clear re-entry waivers to be sent down and brought up) or give Brendan Smith a real shot at making the team as their #6/7.
Up front, my best guess is that the Wings will try to keep all of Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller and Kris Draper, giving Draper the same deal Maltby did—a two-way, $550K contract—and he’ll have to win a spot on the team as Jan Mursak will make the team and Cory Emmerton has to clear waivers to be sent down. If Draper loses in training camp, he’ll retire and become the team’s first strength and conditioning coach.
And in goal, I think that if Chris Osgood’s healthy, the Wings will bring Jimmy Howard’s mentor back (at a slightly reduced salary), and if Osgood doesn’t come back the Wings’ blueprint, again, involves not over-paying for goaltending, so the team may consider simply going with Joey MacDonald instead of overpaying for a free agent goaltender on what is truly a thin UFA market at every position.
Those are my guesses, and I’d like to hear yours.
As for the Wings’ press corps?
The Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell notes that it is possible that the salary cap might go up to the $62-63.5 million range, giving the Wings about $21 million to re-sign their RFA’s (Via Capgeek, Francis Pare, Jordan Pearce, Logan Pyett [who also has to clear waivers, but probably will], and Jordan Owens), as well as their UFA’s, and gives them more money with which to play with (under a $59.4 million cap, the Wings would have $18.5 million to spend), but…
The problem is this summer the free-agent crop is not an overly deep one. Among the better known potential free-agent defencemen come July 1 are: Kevin Bieksa (29), Christian Ehrhoff (28), Eric Brewer (31), Joni Pitkanen (27), Andrei Markov (32), Ed Jovanovski (34), James Wisniewski (27), Bryan McCabe (35), Tomas Kaberle (33), Sami Salo (35), Ian White (26) and Roman Hamrlik (37).
Of that group, the top-scoring defenders were Wisniewski with 51 points and Ehrhoff with 50. The other option open to the Wings would be an offer sheet to a restricted free agent. The biggest names available there are Nashville’s Shea Weber, Phoenix’s Keith Yandle, Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty, Atlanta’s Zach Bogosian and Toronto’s Luke Schenn. But signing one of those players would require giving up draft picks as compensation, the larger the deal the more valuable picks. Holland has never tendered an offer to an restricted free agent.
I’m pretty convinced that the Wings will just go the UFA route, but Waddell points out that the Wings might sign someone to a short-term deal knowing that Ryan Suter’s going to be unrestricted in 2012, and he also believes that the Wings might make a trade:
The Wings were said to have seriously kicked the tires on a deal for [Atlanta Thrashers defenseman Zach] Bogosian at last February’s trade deadline. Bogosian has expressed unhappiness in Atlanta and, with that franchise’s future even more uncertain with the rumours of a move to Winnipeg, one wonders what the American thinks of experiencing Prairie winters. Holland denied the team would pursue Bogosian this summer, but that was before Rafalski made his surprise decision. He also would hardly declare his position before the cards were dealt in this poker game anyway.
A factor in all of this will be the Wings’ assessment of how well their own youngsters are prepared to take on the sudden availability of ice time. Certainly Ericsson’s position in negotiations would seem to have improved. Detroit offered him a $2 million deal earlier this spring that was rejected. No doubt he could gain a more lucrative offer on the open market, but the Wings aren’t interested in going a whole lot higher for the 27-year-old.
Jakub Kindl made huge strides in the second half of last season and many in Detroit’s front office felt he had supplanted Salei in Detroit’s top six by season’s end. A job will be his for the taking.
The wild card in all this is defenceman Brendan Smith. The six-foot-two, 195-pound Smith was named to the American Hockey League’s all-rookie team this past season and played in the league’s all-star game. He finished with 12 goals, 32 points and was a plus-7 in 63 games. A silky smooth skater with great offensive upside, Smith also has a bit of a nasty edge as evidenced by his 124 penalty minutes. More importantly, the Wings feel the 22-year-old is ready to make the jump to the NHL this fall.
If Holland were to make a move, he usually does so at the Entry Draft…
The Detroit Free Press’s Helene St. James is leaning toward the Wings applying the “hometown discount” angle to Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Ed Jovanovski, a Windsor, Ontario native whose offense has tailed off of late but does remain a 6’3” puck-mover, and she thinks that Kevin Bieksa’s another option should the Wings go for the grit-and-grind route:
Jovanovski, who turns 35 in June, has spent the past five seasons with Phoenix, where he put up a career-high 51 points in 80 games in 2007-08. The No. 1 overall pick in the 1994 draft began his career in 1995 with Florida, taking the Panthers to the Stanley Cup final as a rookie. He came to prominence while with Vancouver in the early 2000s, where he was a teammate of Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi. Jovanovski made $6 million last season. It should be easy to sell him on coming to Detroit, as it’d give him a shot at winning a Cup, and the chance to play next door to his hometown.
Another option is Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa. He’s 6-1, 200 pounds and will be 30 next month. He plays with an edge, can move the puck, and finished this past season with a plus-32 ranking, second-best in the NHL. He made $3.5 million last season and would command a raise in a competitive market. Carolina’s Joni Pitkanen is also expected to be available. He’s another 6-3, 220-pound guy and has good instincts with the puck. At his age (27), he’s going to be looking for a raise over the $4.5 million he made last season.
Andrei Markov of Montreal is another UFA, but he’s had such a run of injuries over the past few seasons he’d be a very risky acquisition. There’s also Boston’s Tomas Kaberle, who’s having a nice run in the playoffs. Other UFAs-to-be include Sami Salo, Eric Brewer, Bryan McCabe and Roman Hamrlik.
Jonathan Ericsson may be lured elsewhere by better offers, and Ruslan Salei isn’t likely to come back, but the latter will be offset by the emergence of Jakub Kindl. Brendan Smith, the team’s first-round pick from ‘07, could join the lineup, but the Wings prefer their prospects to be go-to guys in the minors rather than bit players in Detroit.
The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan tosses a few more players into the mix:
—Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo and Christian Ehrhoff are possibilities especially since the Canucks aren’t likely to sign more than two of the players. Bieksa, a physical, tough-minded leader, would be a good fit for the Wings. Ehrhoff is more of an offensive-minded player similar to Rafalski.
—Carolina’s Joni Pitkanen and Boston’s Tomas Kaberle also play a style similar to Rafalski’s, but both will be aggressively pursued by their present teams.
—Windsor native Ed Jovanovski could be available if he decides to not re-sign with Phoenix. Jovanovski is a good friend of Todd Bertuzzi’s and may like the idea of returning home to play next to Bertuzzi.
—Tampa Bay’s Eric Brewer and Washington’s Scott Hannan are two tough defensemen who could help the Red Wings if they don’t re-sign with their present teams.
If Holland decides not to tackle free-agency, he could go one of two ways — restricted free agents or via Grand Rapids. Nashville’s Shea Weber and Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty are restricted free agents that would require Detroit to give up multiple first-round picks. Holland never has signed a restricted free agent, and isn’t likely to cramp his salary cap space with big-money signing.
Don’t be surprised if one of the roster spots goes to Brendan Smith, the Wings’ 2007 first-round pick who is in Grand Rapids.
And MLive’s Ansar Khan isn’t quite sure whether the Wings will keep Ericsson to begin with as Smith’s progressed so quickly…
On defense, the future of unrestricted free agent Jonathan Ericsson remains cloudy. The club would like to re-sign him, but he might seek a more lucrative deal elsewhere. Veteran Ruslan Salei is not likely to return. He could be replaced by journeyman Doug Janik.
The Red Wings are counting on top prospect Brendan Smith to make the team next season. He’s a strong skater, passer and shooter who likes to rush the puck, but like many young players, needs to improve defensively. The club believes it’s better if he makes the transition to the NHL next season — while Lidstrom is still around—than in 2012-13.
So his picks include the following, suggesting that the Wings won’t toss an offer sheet at any of the restricted free agents out there as Holland’s never employed that option:
Kevin Bieksa’s stock has soared during Vancouver’s Stanley Cup playoff run. He’s a tough, physical defender who can provide some offense. The Canucks might not be able to re-sign all three of their prominent UFA defensemen: Bieksa ($3.75 million this season), the offensive-minded Christian Ehrhoff ($3.1 million) and hard-shooting Sami Salo ($3.5 million). Bieksa and Salo shoot right-handed.
Another available right-handed shooter, who has Michigan ties, is Montreal’s James Wisniewski, a Canton native. He is coming off a career year with 10 goals and 51 points. The Canadiens, like the Canucks, have several free-agent defensemen—Andrei Markov, Roman Hamrlik, Brent Sopel, Hal Gill — some of whom they probably won’t be able to re-sign.
Other available unrestricted free-agent defensemen include Eric Brewer of Tampa Bay, Ed Jovanovski of Phoenix, Tomas Kaberle of Boston, Joni Pitkanen of Carolina and Bryan McCabe of the New York Rangers.
The Red Wings, no doubt, also are keeping an eye on the unrestricted free-agent class of 2012, which might include defensemen Ryan Suter of Nashville, Brent Burns of Minnesota and Braydon Coburn of Philadelphia.
If you’re interested, WDFN’s Sean Baligian talked about the Wings possibly going after Weber before suggesting that someone like Wisniewski, who also has Detroit ties (he’s from Canton and played for the Plymouth Whalers), might be a good option:
It bears repeating that the Wings cannot simply replace Rafalski’s veteran leadership, his adaptability to play on the power play, penalty kill, or produce points at the same nearly 55-point rate he established during his tenure with Detroit regardless of whether he was playing alongside Lidstrom or a stay-at-home guy like Ruslan Salei. The Wings can fill the void in terms of points, but Rafalski’s intangibles are irreplaceable, but they can only hope that whoever they sign will grow into the position and deliver similar returns to Rafalski, who was integral in the Wings’ Cup win, Cup final appearance and Western Conference Final appearance over a five-year tenure with the Wings.
Danny Markov’s “replacement” turned out pretty damn well, and whoever will figuratively fill his skates has shadow much longer than Rafalski’s 5’9” height following him.
Also of Red Wings-related note: Amongst the Rafalski tribute photo galleries: USA Today posted a 12-image gallery accompanying Kevin Allen’s Rafalski story; the Wings’ website posted a 62-image gallery; Fox Sports Detroit posted a 5-image gallery; the Free Press posted a 13-image gallery; and WXYT posted a wallpaper-sized image of Rafalski. MTV3.fi posted a picture of Rafalski’s three Cup rings, too. He started his career with HIFK Helsinki, after all;
• Madison.com’s Andy Baggot says that Rafalski was the best University of Wisconsin defenseman he’s seen…aside from Sean Hill;
The Detroit Red Wings will be Philadelphia’s opponent for the Flyers’ annual exhibition at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario. Game time is 7 p.m. Sept. 22.
Tickets will go on sale at noon Saturday through johnlabattcentre.com and at 866-455-2849. Tickets are $ 100, $90, $80 and $65 Canadian.
As well as a bit of a theme, via the London Free Press’s James Reaney:
The John Labatt Centre is completing its Motown week by announcing the Detroit Red Wings play the Philadelphia Flyers at the downtown London arena on Sept. 22. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band headline tonight (Tuesday) and Kid Rock headlines at the JLC on Saturday to make it Motown Week here. More details soon.
• Ahem, part 1, via Alanah’s transcript of San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan’s comments subsequent to the Sharks’ elimination by the Vancouver Canucks:
Q. You got behind the eight ball the first two series. The inability to close out Detroit, do you think that impaired your ability here?
COACH McLELLAN: Perhaps. The L.A. series was a very physical series for us, hard-fought six games. Took its toll. We have a lot of guys bumped and bruised and injured. Ryane Clowe played injured the whole playoffs. He’ll need to be repaired.
But the Detroit series did take a lot out of us. When you look at Game 1, I thought fatigue was our biggest factor in this game. You can attribute that to the team in Detroit taking a little bit of our juice away from us, if you will.
Ahem, part 2, via ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun:
What’s puzzling about the Sharks is that they’ve knocked out the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings two years in a row—no small achievement. But they’ve followed that up by losing eight of the nine games they’ve played in the Western Conference finals.
• In the alumni department, part 1: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Kathleen Nelson reports that two members of the Red Wings’ family will be inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame in November:
The Blues also are well-represented in the class of 16. Among the inductees are former coach Scotty Bowman, who led the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens to a record nine Stanley Cup championships, and Garry Unger, who never scored less than 30 goals in a season. Unger also set an NHL record by playing in 914 consecutive regular-season games with the Blues, Maple Leafs, Red Wings and Atlanta Flames. His record was broken by Doug Jarvis with 964.
• In the alumni department, part 2: Dominik Hasek told Dennik Sport that he’s taking a one-year break from hockey after not receiving any “interesting” offers from KHL teams to play for the next season.
Today, he tells Dennik Sport’s Miroslav Horak that he plans on kicking some world travel “bucket list items” to the curb, including seeing the Himalayas, Patagonia and Lake Baikal and the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia, among other places, via bicycle, and he reiterates his status as taking a year off, but not retiring, to iDnes.cz;
• In the alumni department, part 3: Montreal’s CJAD 800 notes that it’s been 25 years since Chris Chelios won his first Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens;
• Just as an FYI, Hakan Andersson confirmed to Allehanda’s David Jiglund that the Wings will re-sign Dick Axelsson, retaining his rights. He’ll play for MoDo Ornskoldsvik next season;
• The Red Wings will take us out in multimedia form, with Jake Duhaime offering the Wings’ home opener as the sixth-best game of the 2010-2011 season…
GAME SIX – DON’T MESS WITH DATSYUK
October 8, 2010
Red Wings 4, Ducks 0
Mike Modano scored in his first game in a Red Wings sweater, and Pavel Datsyuk lost any opportunity to win the Lady Byng Trophy on opening night.
Not that it mattered to fans.
Datsyuk dropped the gloves with Corey Perry, registering the first Gordie Howe hat-trick of his career, and sending the sold out crowd into bedlam. Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary also scored for the Red Wings, Jimmy Howard made 21 saves for the shutout.
And as it turns out, RedWingsTV reveals that Ken Kal makes the occasional boo boo—in the first of four “outtakes” from Kal’s “Game Day” features:
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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.