It appears that the Detroit Red Wings are out of the hunt for free agent defenseman Willie Mitchell. The team announced today that they’ve reached a one-year deal with free agent defenseman Ruslan Salei. Much like Willie Mitchell, Ruslan Salei is a tough customer and a veteran player coming off an injury-laden season himself missing most of last season thanks to a back injury. When he is playing, however, he’s a shot-blocking defense-first defenseman playing about 20 minutes a game while adding snarl to the lineup. What’s different than Willie Mitchell is that the Wings are getting Salei at a good cost, $750,000 plus a possible $350,000 in bonuses.
Salei spent most of his career with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim after being a first round pick (9th overall) for them in 1996. While you won’t see Ruslan Salei much on the score sheet picking up goals and assists (he’s got 194 career points in 842 games played) you will see him mix things up physically as he’s earned 1,017 penalty minutes throughout his NHL career. Salei has also been the stalwart member of Belarus’ national team playing in the Olympics three times (2010, 2002, 1998).
Salei figures to be Jonathan Ericsson’s defensive partner on the third pair to start the year in Detroit as Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart fill out the other two defensive pairs. Salei gives head coach Mike Babcock and experienced veteran to use in the spot as well as opposed to Derek Meech, Jakub Kindl or rookie Brendan Smith.
That first day of training camp might be interesting for Ruslan Salei if Mike Modano has a long memory about things. Salei crushed Modano with a ruthless hit from behind years ago as a member of the Mighty Ducks that lead to a huge brawl. Lets hope that bygones are bygones for these two cagey veterans.