Brian Rafalski

Report: Brian Rafalski set to retire from NHL, make Detroit’s offseason more interesting

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When the Detroit Red Wings season came to an end in Game 7 against San Jose, many began wondering about whether or not they may have seen the last of Nicklas Lidstrom in a Red Wings sweater.  As it turns out, there was another Red Wings defenseman who had retirement on the mind. 37 year-old Brian Rafalski is reportedly set to call it a career after 11 NHL seasons with the Red Wings and New Jersey Devils.

Rafalski will finish his career as a three-time Stanley Cup champion, two with New Jersey and one with Detroit, with 515 points working as an offensive threat from the blue line in both New Jersey and Detroit. Rafalski also ends his career with two Olympic silver medals with Team USA in 2002 and 2010 and ending up as one of the top American-born defensemen of all time. Rafalski dealt with a back injury through this season and has spent the better part of his career playing without an ACL in one of his knees. That kind of wear and tear takes a toll after time and for Rafalski it’s likely forcing him to hang it up.

By retiring, Rafalski will leave the game and the Red Wings with one year left on his contract worth $6 million and some serious questions for Red Wings GM Ken Holland to answer as to how to prepare Detroit for the future along the blue line. Many of Detroit’s immediate questions will be answered if Lidstrom commits to one more year, but their future is of more concern. With an added $6 million to spend, however, the possibilities are nearly endless for rebuild.

Detroit has three unrestricted free agents on defense this offseason in Lidstrom, Ruslan Salei, and Jonathan Ericsson. Ericsson is the youngest of the bunch but could be in line for a raise. If Lidstrom comes back, he’d likely command a similar salary as he had this past season at $6.2 million. It’s possible he could take less money to help give Holland more freedom to spend and load up for the future, but let’s not get carried away there.

Detroit will likely start refilling their defensive unit from within as top prospect Brendan Smith is poised to join the big club next year after a dominant season in the AHL this past season.  Detroit may consider that Niklas Kronwall is set to be their next Rafalski-like defenseman as he found his offensive touch late in the season and the playoffs. With the added physical edge he brings to the game, Kronwall’s future in Detroit seems virtually set.

From there, taking 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, St. Louis’ Roman Polak, Buffalo’s Andrej Sekera, 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.

One way or  the other, Detroit’s offseason just a got a lot more interesting and rival general managers who have potential free agents this summer have a real reason to be concerned. The Wings are officially on the prowl to reload.

Stars end Capitals’ winning streak, pass Blackhawks for West lead

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For two periods, the Dallas Stars seemed to say, “Are you sure the Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL?”

They chased Braden Holtby and built a 4-0 lead through those first 40 minutes, and that was enough … but barely. The Stars beat the Capitals 4-3 on Saturday, which accomplished the following:

  • Dallas ended Washington’s winning streak at five games. The Stars have now won three straight.
  • This win slides the Stars ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the highly competitive Central Division. While both teams sit at 77 standings points, Dallas holds three games in hand.
  • By passing Chicago, the Stars now lead the Western Conference as a whole.

Impressive stuff. Some might even call it a statement game, although others may hold that nail-biting ending against them (possibly arguing that the Stars’ flaws may come back to haunt them in the playoffs).

Dallas’ biggest concern likely has little to do with doubters. Instead, they must monitor the statuses of forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.

Long story short, the Stars are red-hot, yet bigger challenges likely lie ahead.

Blackhawks fall to Ducks in OT, lose Hossa to injury

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The Chicago Blackhawks are on edge on Saturday, and it’s not because of what’s currently a close game against the Anaheim Ducks.

(Not that they’re indifferent toward a match against their opponents from last year’s conference final match, mind you.)

Instead, the Blackhawks are quite concerned about the health of Marian Hossa, who needed help off of the ice following an awkward, scary-looking crash into the boards. (Hampus Lindholm delivered the hip check that sent Hossa sprawling, in case you’re wondering.)

You can see that moment in the video above, while My Regular Face’s GIF also captures that troubling moment:

It’s too early to tell if Hossa will bounce back or miss some time from this. Stay tuned for potential updates.

Update: Joel Quenneville seems optimistic about Hossa, broadly speaking:

Ryan Getzlaf scored the overtime game-winner as the Ducks won 3-2 (OT).

Understatement: Saturday was a rough night for Panthers

Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson (33) checks Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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If it weren’t for Mike Yeo and the Minnesota Wild, you could argue that the Florida Panthers suffered from the worst night so far.

You can see that Saturday was unpleasant merely from looking at the scoreboard: the Nashville Predators pummeled the Panthers by an unkind score of 5-0.

The pain goes beyond that … literally so.

For one thing, Quinton Howden suffered an upper-body injury and did not return. That’s no good, but if you want to feel sick to your stomach, footage of Brandon Pirri‘s likely lower-body injury (ankle maybe?) may do the trick.

(Seriously, you may be happier if you don’t look.)

The Panthers didn’t make an announcement about Pirri one way or another, so we’ll see if he somehow avoided anything significant.

Either way, it was a night this team would like to forget.

Fractured jaw from fight sidelines Chris Stewart for 4-8 weeks

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It’s unlikely that Chris Stewart will generate another 30-goal season in the NHL, but he still might be missed by the Anaheim Ducks.

The team announced that the ornery forward is expected to miss four-to-eight weeks with a fractured jaw. If that’s the recovery window, Stewart may go into the playoffs a little rusty (if he can get in any regular season games at all).

The Ducks didn’t elaborate, but the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline believes that the injury happened during a fight with Dalton Prout of the Columbus Blue Jackets. You can see that brawl in the video above.

One bright side for Anaheim: if they believe that they need to replace what Stewart brings to the table (rugged play with a dash of offense), then at least this injury happened before the the Feb. 29 trade deadline.