The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/23/11 at 08:03 PM ET
Updated ix at 11:47 PM: Per Pleiness:
A source told The Macomb Daily late Monday night that Rafalski is expected to announce his decision Wednesday during a news conference at Joe Louis Arena.
Well I hope that Nicklas Lidstrom’s going to stick around…As Paul noted, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos Tweeted that Brian Rafalski may retire from the Red Wings at 36, leaving a year left on his contract (which wouldn’t count against the cap as he signed it prior to 35 years of age, negating post-35 years if a player retires).
In a surprise if not shocking move sources tell Sportsnet the #RedWings will announce retirement of D Brian Rafalski as early as this week.
What’s more surprising #Redwings Rafalski walks away from 6M he was scheduled to earn next year. With the news look for Lidstrom to return.
Injuries the main reason #Redwings Rafalski shuts down a great career. He played throughout the play-offs without a ACL in his knee.
If that’s the knee that hasn’t had an ACL since he was 17, that’s not a surprise, but his other knee was bothering him, and his back issues have become a persistent issue.
Sportsnet has collected Kypreos’s Tweets in a report stating that Rafalski will indeed retire, and TSN says that its sources confirm that Rafalski is retiring [edit/update: the Sporting News’s Craig Custance says Rafalski will retire on Wednesday].
MLive’s Ansar Khan says that the Wings have not confirmed the news, the Detroit News is repeating the report and the Detroit Free Press’s Helene St. James spoke to Wings GM Ken Holland, who suggested that Rafalski is at least considering retirement, though Holland insists that nothing’s definite by any means:
“I know there are tons of rumors out there,” Holland told the Free Press. “I do know he’s doing a lot of thinking. I did meet with him at the end of the year. I’ve had conversations with him. For lack of better words, I do know he’s doing a lot of thinking about next year. He’s got to make some decisions. I haven’t talked to him in a week. He hasn’t told me he’s retiring.”
Rafalski, 37, has played the past few years with a sore back and a bad knee, occasionally forcing him from the lineup. He missed 19 games this season but still finished with 48 points in 63 games.
If Rafalski does retire, the Wings will have $6 million to throw at a replacement. They’re also in limbo regarding defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who also is mulling whether to retire.
More to come.
When healthy, the Wings couldn’t replace Rafalski with $8 million—he posts nearly a point per game and provided a fantastic outlet pass, an underrated shot, and supremely veteran savvy…But when he’s hurt, he’s in and out of the lineup and his mobility becomes an issue, to the point that he looks like Slava Fetisov, who got hit every time he made a pass at the end of his career.
The $6 million Rafalski would free up—I’m guessing that Lidstrom won’t take a pay cut under his $6 million salary, nor should he—would either allow the Wings to try to spend $6 million on a replacement or $4 million on a decent replacement and maybe $2 million on a forward, given that the team may or may not be able to pawn off Jiri Hudler (if they plan on trading him at all, which I think they do).
Update: This wouldn’t be surprising as Rafalski both battled indues and was the only player who suggested that Lidstrom might retire—offering an observation about his own future to the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff while speaking about Lidstrom:
While most Red Wings players are busy lobbying captain Nicklas Lidstrom to play another season, defenceman Brian Rafalski, whose locker sits to the right of Lidstrom’s in the Detroit dressing room at Joe Louis Arena, is opting to give his teammate some space. “Everyone makes their own choices, their own decisions,” Rafalski said. “I respect whatever choice he makes. It’s something that I think is an internal family decision. That’s the way it should be.”
Rafalski indicated he wouldn’t be the least bit shocked if Lidstrom, a Norris and Lady Byng Trophy finalist, opted to walk away from the game. “People might be shocked, but obviously he wouldn’t be shocked,” Rafalski said. “If he chooses to step out, then that’s obviously what is best for him. Life moves on. It’s what you take from every situation and not let the situation dictate to you how you react to that situation.”
Update #2: FSD’s Dana Wakiji also took note of Rafalski’s comments:
Rafalski, who turns 38 in September, practiced rarely during the playoffs due to knee issues, but he played every game. The Dearborn native had just one point in the seven-game series against the San Jose Sharks after recording two goals against the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round.
During the regular season, Rafalski had four goals and 44 assists in 63 games.
Rafalski has one year at $6 million remaining on his contract.
When the Wings cleaned out their lockers on May 14, Rafalski said he wouldn’t be shocked if captain Nick Lidstrom, 41, retired. But he did not give any indication that he was considering it.
“Everyone makes their own choices, their own decisions,” Rafalski said. “I respect whatever choice he makes. It’s something that I think is an internal family decision. That’s the way it should be.”
Per Capgeek.com, I’d imagine that the Wings are now in the market for a free agent defenseman—Shea Weber’s a restricted free agent, and the multiple first-round picks the Wings would have to give up for a $6 million offer sheet don’t make sense—and the targets include James Wisniewski, Christian Ehrhoff, Tomas Kaberle (despite the fact that he’s been awful for Boston), Joni Pitkanen, Kevin Bieksa, Bryan McCabe, Radek Martinek, Ed Jovanovski, etc.
Ehrhoff’s a dream candidate but he’d take at least $6 million, and might be able to command more due to the slim pickings this summer, even in a possible lockout year.
Update #3: Chuck Pleiness of the Macomb Daily’s put in a call to Ken Holland…
Kypreos beat me to the punch…but I’m also hearing that Rafalski is retiring on Wednesday. He apparently has been struggling with decision.
Nobody’s surprised that Doug Weight is finally taking off his skates at 40, his body betraying him after over 1,200 NHL games, almost half of them (588) with the Oil drop logo on his jersey, but a report from SportsNet’s Nick Kypreos Monday that Detroit defenceman Brian Ralaski is also planning on retiring comes out of left-field. If any Red Wings’ blueliner was going to quit, it was supposed to be Nick Lidstrom.
Instead, it’s the hugely under-rated Rafalski, who didn’t make the NHL until he was 26 because he was supposed to be too small. He was never drafted, went four years to U of Wisconsin, then another four years in Europe–three in Finland, one in Sweden–before the New Jersey Devils signed him in June, 1999. All he did was win three Stanley Cups (two with the Devils in 2000 and 2003 and one with Detroit in 2008), play 833 league games, get 515 regular-season points and, most importantly, get 100 in 165 playoff games. Rafalski and Lidstrom were a magical powerplay combo for the Red Wings after they signed him four years ago. There was no better tag-team from the point.
Rafalski is only 37 and still is one of the NHL’s best offensive defencemen–48 points in only 63 games this past season–but he limped through the playoffs this season on a leg and a prayer, missing practices and only playing games because of an aching knee. His retirement catches everybody off-guard, although you would have to think Wings’ GM Ken Holland was told this might be a possibility at the player exit interviews. On the oldest team in the NHL, Rafalski seemed to have some gas left in his tank, but maybe his heart wasn’t in it any longer because he’s walking away from a $6 million salary.
They’re expected to have a press conference in a few days with the Wings now faced with having to sign a veteran free-agent on July 1. The best of those–Canucks’ Christian Ehrhoff and Kevin Bieksa–and Carolina’s Joni Pitkanen. Of course, they are now hoping Lidstrom, 41, returns for at least one more season or that leaves a crater on their back-end.
Update #4: the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan has yet to hear from Holland;
Here’s what Holland told
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski is planning to retire, according to reports out of Canada.
However, the club has not been informed of his final decision, general manager Ken Holland said.
Holland said he hasn’t spoken to the 37-year-old defenseman in a week but plans to talk to him this week.
“I think (retirement) is an option for him,’’ Holland said. “He wanted to take some time (to decide).’‘
Update #5: Pro Hockey Talk’s Joe Yerdon has a nice theory, but I don’t buy into it:
[T]aking a look at the unrestricted and restricted free agent markets provides a lot of fodder for thought. Amongst the unrestricted possibilities are Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa, Montreal’s James Wisniewski, Carolina’s Joni Pitkanen if you’re looking at guys under age 30. If you want someone a bit older, guys like Bryan McCabe, Ed Jovanovski, and Tomas Kaberle could be had.
The three younger guys provide a bit more intrigue and with how Bieksa has played this postseason, he’s going to demand a lot of attention elsewhere. Wisniewski emerged as a major contributor for both the Islanders and Canadiens this season with his offensive touch and physical game. He was successful in Anaheim and knows the Western Conference well. Pitkanen could provide skill and more of the Nordic flavor the Red Wings seem to gravitate toward.
If Holland wants to get really adventurous and delve into the offer sheet season with restricted players, there are more than a few highly intriguing young names out there. Nashville’s Shea Weber, L.A.’s Drew Doughty, Toronto’s Luke Schenn, Atlanta’s Zach Bogosian, Phoenix’s Keith Yandle, Washington’s Karl Alzner, and Montreal’s Josh Gorges are all out there.
Nicklas Lidstrom is a huge fan of Shea Weber’s, even asking that he be paired up with Weber at the All-Star Game in Raleigh, but the chances of him leaving Nashville to play for a division rival seem virtually nil. Doughty and Los Angeles will likely come to a deal atsome point as the Kings have plenty of money to spend. Same goes for Schenn in Toronto and Alzner in Washington.
Detroit was rumored to be trying to acquire Bogosian from Atlanta at the trade deadline but the Thrashers weren’t about to let go of yet another young cornerstone piece before they’ve had a chance to fully develop. Keith Yandle is a fascinating choice because it would give Holland and Wings owner Mike Ilitch the chance to take advantage of the NHL owning the Coyotes and thus having tighter purse strings. Yandle emerged as one of the best point producing defensemen in the NHL this season and at 24 years-old could be just starting to get better. If the Wings wanted to get more defensive, Gorges would be a nice fit although he’s coming off an injury-hampered season.
The catch to pursuing any restricted free agent is that you have to sign them to an offer sheet which the team owning their rights can then either match or allow them to sign and receive compensation for the signing. The kind of deals it would take to get any of those guys would likely see the Wings giving up multiple first round draft picks. On the upside for Detroit, they generally pick in the 20′s of the first round thanks to their regular season and playoff success. It’d be a gamble but if they had a shot at any of that talent there, it could be a very worthy sacrifice to get a young defenseman locked up for years to come.
Neither Rafalski or his agent, Bill Zito, could be reached for comment.
Fox Sports Detroit also posted a Rafalski photo gallery.
Update #7: Via the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness:
A pair of Canadian websites, TSN and Sportsnet, reported Monday that Brian Rafalski has decided to retire with one year remaining on his deal, which was set to pay him $6 million. Wings general manager Ken Holland would not confirm the reports.
“I haven’t talked to him in more than a week,” Holland said. “I’m not confirming that he’s retiring. I think (retirement) is an option for him,” Holland added. “I met with him a week ago. He wanted to take some time. We planned to talk this week.”
Neither Rafalski, who is from Dearborn, nor his agent, Bill Zito, could be reached for comment.
Injuries have plagued Rafalski, 37, over the last three seasons.He had back surgery last summer.
He missed 10 games in October after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. He also sat out eight games due to back spasms. During the playoffs, he was bothered by a sore knee, which prevented him from skating on most off-days.
“I think Rafi’s health (issue) is more over time,” Holland said. “Whatever injuries Rafi had this year were wear and tear of his career.”
And, per FSD’s Wakiji:
The Red Wings told FOXSportDetroit.com they have not heard from Rafalski regarding any retirement announcement yet.
Big-ass update: Via Kulfan:
Holland spoke with Rafalski last week during season-ending meetings and Rafalski told Holland he “had decisions to make.”
“I don’t really have much comment after that,” Holland said. “I haven’t talked to him since then. I know there are a lot of rumors out there, but he hasn’t told me he’s retiring. I expect to hear from him this week.”
Rafalski’s agent Bill Zito didn’t respond Monday to messages. Rafalski, who is set to earn $6 million on the final season of his contract in 2011-12, was plagued with knee injuries this season and missed 19 games. He was also plagued with back injuries in the last two seasons. Rafalski had four goals and 44 assists in 63 games, and was plus-11 in 2010-11. In 11 playoff games, Rafalski had two goals and an assist.
If Rafalski were to retire, it would free up salary cap space. The Wings might be interested in taking a run at Nashville restricted free agent Shea Weber. But the Predators are expected to match any offer sheet for Weber.
Rafalski, who is from Dearborn, has played 11 seasons in the NHL — the first seven with New Jersey and the last four with Detroit.
The news regarding Rafalski comes as the Wings are awaiting a decision probably in the next few weeks from Lidstrom. Holland has yet to hear from Lidstrom, 41, who said after the season he will take time to think about whether to return for a 20th season with the Wings.
“I think (retirement) is an option for him,’’ Holland said. “I met with him a week ago. He wanted to take some time. We planned to talk this week.’‘
Rafalski has one year remaining on his contract at $6 million. TSN and Sportsnet, citing unnamed sources, reported that he is retiring.
Neither Rafalski or his agent, Bill Zito, could be reached for comment. Rafalski has been hampered by injuries in recent years. He had back surgery last summer. He missed 10 games in October after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery and sat out eight games in late February/early March due to back spasms. He also was bothered by a sore knee in the playoffs, which prevented him from skating on most off-days.
“I think Rafi’s health (issues) is more over time,’’ Holland said. “Whatever injuries Rafi had this year were wear and tear of his career.’‘
The skilled, puck-moving defenseman had four goals and 44 assists (third on team) in 63 games this season and added two goals and one assist in 11 playoff games. He was not as strong defensively, however, leading the team’s defensemen in giveaways.
Detroit’s defense might undergo a significant overhaul. Jonathan Ericsson is an unrestricted free agent whom the club would like to re-sign, having offered him a multiyear deal worth $2 million a season. But he might seek a better deal elsewhere Veteran Ruslan Salei also might not return.
The Red Wings, under Holland, have never signed a restricted free agent to an offer sheet. The player’s club has the right to match or receive compensatory draft picks.
Here’s Pleiness’s report...
“I haven’t talked to him in more than a week,” Holland said. “I’m not confirming that he’s retiring.
“I think (retirement) is an option for him,” Holland added. “I met with him a week ago. He wanted to take some time. We planned to talk this week.”
Neither Rafalski, who is from Dearborn, nor his agent, Bill Zito, could be reached for comment. Because Rafalski was not 35 when he signed his five-year, $30 million free-agent contract with Detroit in 2007, the final year of the deal will not count against the cap, if he retires.
With that kind of salary cap space, the Wings may turn their interest in Nashville restricted free agent defenseman Shea Weber. But Weber told the Tennessean after the season that a deal with the Predators was going to get done.
“Obviously, this is a place I love to play, and you saw how close we were this year to getting to the conference finals, and possibly further,” he told the paper. “This is a place I want to be, and it’s going to be a matter of time before something gets done.”
Nashville has until July 1 before Weber can get offers from other teams for his services.
And here’s more from St. James:
A bad back and a sore knee hampered him this season, causing him to miss 19 games, and reduced his effectiveness during the playoffs.
On May 14, two days after the Wings were ousted from the playoffs, Rafalski told the Free Press that, “I’m always going to have issues now. The knee, it swelled up here and there at times. It affected my skating stride.”
In addition to waiting on news from Rafalski, Holland is waiting to hear whether team captain Nicklas Lidstrom will retire or return.
“I’m waiting to hear from Rafi,” Holland said. “I expect to hear from Nick before the draft (next month). They have to make their decisions. But every off-season is the same. Some off-seasons, there are more decisions than others. No matter what decision Rafi makes, we’ve got all summer to put our team together. If he comes back, we still have to do some things to put our team together. If he doesn’t, we’ll have bigger decisions.”
There are several defensemen eligible to become unrestricted free agents this summer, including Ed Jovanovski, Kevin Bieksa, 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 the Predators almost certainly would match any offer by another team.
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