Red Wings’ Brian Rafalski retires at the age of 37
The hockey world received some shocking news on Monday surrounding one of Hockeytown’s veteran defenders’ future plans. No, NIcklas Lidstrom’s retirement decision is still in limbo but it appears that Brian Rafalski is indeed contemplating retirement. The eleven-year veteran has yet to inform the Detroit Red Wings’ organization and an official announcement has not been made but rumours are surfacing that the native of Dearborn is leaning towards hanging up his skates.
Assuming that Rafalski does indeed “officially” retire, the Red Wings would be losing a vital piece to their defence core. Rafalski, 37, finished the 2010-11 season with an extremely productive 48 points in just 63 games but has struggled over the past couple of seasons with injuries to his back and ACL. With one year remaining on his 6-year contract, Rafalski’s retirement would clear $6 million from the Red Wings’ 2011-12 salary cap.
Looking towards next season, Holland has several options to replace the savvy smooth skating veteran and, as always, will take his time in making his decision. Holland will have several free agents that could fill Rafalski’s void if he were to look at veterans such as Christian Ehhoff, Tomas Kaberle, or Joni Pitkanen. All three would be good options but Holland may choose to look within his own organization for a cheaper option.
Traditionally, the Red Wings organization has remained extremely patient with the development of their prospects often allowing them several years of AHL seasoning until they are ripe for plucking. However, Holland has the option of graduating one of his prized prospects in order to help replace the offensive hole left by the Rafalski departure. Brendan Smith, Detroit’s first-round selection in the 2007 Entry Draft, displayed his strongest skills in his first professional season after recording impressive offensive numbers. Smith, 22, recorded 32 points in 63 AHL games for the Grand Rapid Griffins and finished in fifth in rookie defenseman scoring.
Detroit would prefer to have the University of Wisconsin star spend another season developing his game in Grand Rapids but he may just be the best replacement for Rafalski. Prior to the Rafalski news, Smith was likely going to see some NHL action next season regardless but Holland might be forced to abort his normal tendencies and rely on a prospect earlier than expected. Detroit will also look for another prospect to take on more responsibility as Jakub Kindl makes the next step in his development process. The Detroit Red Wings organization has a track record of making all of the right decisions. Detroit has several viable options (especially with the accompanying freed up cap space) but with Rafalski retiring and Lidstrom’s future still unknown, Holland will have some tough decisions this summer.
Brian Rafalski was instrumental in paving the way for small offensive-minded defenseman that are taking the league by storm in the new NHL. In 11 seasons, Rafalski tallied 515 points in 833 career regular season games for the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings. Rafalski is an ideal role model for those hockey players chasing their NHL dreams after being looked over by NHL clubs. The New Jersey Devils signed Rafalski out of the SM-Liiga Finnish league and soon became a fan favourite with the Devils. With three Stanley Cup rings and two silver Olympic medals Rafalski enters retirement as one of the best all-time American-born defenseman in the NHL. Hockeytown will miss Rafalski more than they even know.
Now, what will Lidstrom’s decision be?
Follow Brendan Ross on Twitter @rossyyoungblood