The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/24/11 at 03:33 PM ET
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and Brian Rafalski will host a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the veteran defenseman’s future with the organization.
The conference will take place at 11 a.m. EDT from inside the Olympia Club at Joe Louis Arena. Fans can watch the conference via a LIVE VIDEO STREAM here on DetroitRedWings.com.
An undrafted player coming out of the University of Wisconsin, Rafalski fine-tuned his skills in Europe before returning to North America where he enjoyed 11 NHL seasons—including four with the Red Wings. He was a two-time All-Star and won the Stanley Cup three times, two of which were with the New Jersey Devils in 2000 and 2003. Rafalski also had an excellent international playing career, winning two Olympic silver medals with Team USA at Salt Lake City (2002) and Vancouver (2010). In Vancouver, Rafalski was named the best defenseman of the tournament, finishing with four goals, four assists and a plus-7 rating in six games.
Rafalski was born and raised in suburban Detroit and attended Southfield Christian High School. He and his wife, Felicity, have three sons.
Update: MLive’s Ansar Khan says that the Wings want to bring Brendan Smith into the fold next season..
The club is counting on top prospect Brendan Smith to make the team next season.
Still, they will need to fill one or two holes on defense through free agency. It is not a particularly deep free-agent class.
Some of the prominent impending unrestricted free agents include Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff and Sami Salo of Vancouver; James Wisniewski, Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik of Montreal; Ed Jovanovski of Phoenix; Eric Brewer of Tampa Bay; Tomas Kaberle of Boston; Joni Pitkanen of Carolina; Scott Hannan of Washington; Shane O’Brien of Nashville and Bryan McCabe of the Rangers.
Shea Weber of Nashville, Drew Doughty of Los Angeles, Zach Bogosian of Atlanta and Keith Yandle of Phoenix are the most prominent restricted free-agent defensemen. Their clubs can match any offer they receive or get compensatory draft picks. The Red Wings, under general manager Ken Holland, have never signed a restricted free agent to an offer sheet.
The Detroit Free Press’s Helene St. James offers this take on the Wings’ possible Rafalski replacements…
Jonathan Ericsson might benefit from Rafalski leaving, as it gives the Wings more salary-cap space, but the team won’t overpay for Ericsson if another team offers him a fat contract. Ruslan Salei isn’t likely to be back. He’ll probably search for a place to play closer to his family’s home in California.
Brendan Smith, Detroit’s first-round pick in 2007, has a shot at making the team, but the Wings prefer to have their prospects be go-to guys in the minor leagues than fifth or sixth defensemen in Detroit.
So who’s available this summer? The biggest name is Windsor native Ed Jovanovski, who has spent the past two-plus seasons with Phoenix. He’s offensively gifted, and he’s 6-feet-3 and 220-plus pounds. He plays in all situations and easily can log 20 minutes a night. He’s going to be 35 in June, but he’s still a high-end defenseman. He has been a force in the league for 15 seasons, carrying the Florida Panthers all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in his rookie year in ’96.
He made $6 million last season. It should be easy enough to sell him on Detroit: It would mean, at least if Lidstrom returns, a chance at adding a Cup to his career, a chance to play next door to his hometown and a reunion with good friend Todd Bertuzzi, with whom he played in Vancouver.
Another fairly big name out there is Kevin Bieksa, currently helping the Canucks close in on the Stanley Cup finals. He’s going to be 30 in June, so he’s in the prime of his career. He’s 6-1 and 198, plays with an edge, and can do some damage with the puck. He had 32 assists among 43 points in 72 games in ’08-09, though he has only hit 22 points the last two seasons. He made $3.5 million this season and would command something of a raise.
Other defensemen eligible to become unrestricted free agents include Joni Pitkanen, Sami Salo, Eric Brewer, Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe and Roman Hamrlik. Nashville’s Shea Weber is eligible to become a restricted free agent, but it isn’t Holland’s modus operandi to try to poach another team’s restricted free agent.
Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner says that it’s Rafalski’s right knee issues that are going to end his playing career, and he offers this take on the Wings’ blueline’s future…
As of today, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart are under contract through next year; Lidstrom is mulling over retirement; Rafalski seems ready to call it a career; Jonathan Ericsson, an UFA, has been offered a contract—believed to be for $2 million a season—but could get more on the open market; and Ruslan Salei, also an UFA, has an extremely slim chance of returning. Jakub Kindl will be Salei’s replacement; top prospect Brendan Smith has a golden opportunity to make the team; and if Ericsson bolts for greener pastures, Detroit could wait until mid-August to find a stop-gap replacement from a pool of unsigned UFA.
Detroit ideally would want to add a right-handed shooting defenseman to fill Rafalski’s void. The most attractive player is Vancouver’s Bieksa. He’s a rugged player (6-foot-1, 198 pounds) who has cannon of a shot from the point, plays both ends of the ice and drops the gloves when necessary.
Bieksa’s teammate Sami Salo could be an option. Like Bieksa, Salo is a right-handed shot and can fire the puck from the point, but his age (36) and inability to stay healthy could temper Detroit’s interest.
Montreal’s Wisniewski is the only other right-handed shooting defenseman from the above list of UFA and is the player Detroit should target. He’s burly (5-foot-11, 205 pounds), plays with aggression, defends the crease area, possesses offensive skills, skates well and has an all-around game that would flourish in the Wing’s system.
Red Wings GM Ken Holland told me last week that he was open to a trade if the right deal comes along. Atlanta’s Zach Bogosian seems like a player who would be a natural fit to replace Rafalski. Bogosian is big (6-foot-3, 205 pounds), young (turns 21 in July), has 199 NHL games under his belt, is a right-handed shot, plays a two-way game and has unlimited potential. Although Holland has never talked to the Thrashers about Bogosian, there is a sense Detroit is intrigued by the possibility of adding him to the roster. The price that it might cost the Wings (Val Filppula, a first-round pick, and maybe Kindl) could sway Lidstrom to retire.
Look at it from Lidstrom’s perspective: Will the Wings have a better chance of winning with Bogosian next season or with Filppula and Kindl? Bogosian could be a star in the NHL for many seasons to come but probably not next season.
And the Detroit Nws’s Ted Kulfan goes the spartan route:
Rafalski’s decision comes as the Wings are still waiting on defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, 41, to make up his mind about retirement. Lidstrom, a Norris Trophy (best defenseman) finalist, is expected to make his decision in the next few weeks. Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, 28, also is an unrestricted free agent.
So who will the Wings target in free agency beginning July 1?
Vancouver defensemen Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo and Christian Ehrhoff are possibilities, as are Montreal defensemen Roman Hamrlik, Andrei Markov and James Wisniewski. Phoenix defenseman Ed Jovanovski, a Windsor native, might relish the opportunity to finish his career close to home.
Update #2: USA Today’s Kevin Allen penned a superb tribute to Rafalski and weighed in on the Wings’ options as follows:
Although Rafalski’s retirement frees up $6 million in cap space, he will not be easy to replace. Prize puck-moving defensive prospect Brendan Smith is trying to make the Red Wings next season. He would be similar in style to Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson, at least in terms of his desire to make things happen defensively. But Smith is 21, and it remains to be seen if he is ready.
The free-agent field includes some pure puck movers, such as Christian Ehrhoff (Vancouver Canucks), Joni Pitkanen (Carolina Hurricanes) or even Andrei Markov (Montreal Canadiens), whose last two seasons have been undermined by injuries. Michigan native James Wisniewski (Montreal), whose offensive ability has long been underrated, is available, as are veterans Roman Hamrlik (Montreal), Ed Jovanovski (Phoenix Coyotes) and Tomas Kaberle (Boston Bruins).
If the Red Wings want to go in a different direction, one intriguing possibility would be Kevin Bieksa, the tough, two-way Canucks defenseman whose stock has risen during the playoffs.
Considering some of these players will re-sign with their teams, it’s way too early to handicap which direction the Red Wings will go. Also, the Red Wings still are waiting to hear whether Nicklas Lidstrom, 41, will come back for another season, although it would be surprising if he doesn’t. He is a Norris Trophy finalist and has shown no signs of being weary of the game or its trappings.
The Rafalski decision probably makes it more crucial for the Red Wings to re-sign defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, who could test free agency. The Red Wings could look at trade options, particularly if the Atlanta Thrashers decide to move young defenseman Zach Bogosian.
Right now, we can guess the Red Wings don’t yet have a firm plan, like they did in 2007 when they decided to give Rafalski $6 million a season because he was a perfect fit for their team. General manager Ken Holland undoubtedly would say he got his money’s worth.
Update #3: USA Today posted a Rafalski gallery.
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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.