Brian Rafalski

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


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.

Don’t assume Fleury will be traded, says Penguins GM

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 02:  Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on from the bench in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Just because Matt Murray signed an extension doesn’t mean Marc-Andre Fleury‘s days in Pittsburgh are numbered.

That was the message today from Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, after Murray re-upped through 2019-20.

“The focus seems to be on what happens with Marc-Andre, but let’s let this play itself out first,” Rutherford said, per the Post-Gazette. “Let’s not just presume that Marc is automatically out. He’s been the franchise goalie here, he is a terrific person, he’s a terrific player and I think that assumption, we’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves.”

This wouldn’t be such a hot topic if there was no expansion draft in June. But there is, and when it takes place, each team will only be allowed protect one goalie. And if the Penguins don’t trade Fleury, they’ll be obligated to protect him, unless he’s willing to waive his no-movement clause.

Protecting Fleury would, of course, leave Murray as a prime candidate to be chosen by Las Vegas. Unless, that is, Rutherford could strike a deal with George McPhee to, say, send Vegas a draft pick or player, in return for Vegas not picking Murray. Yes, that kind of deal is allowed.

So it’s complicated.

At this point in time, it’s quite possible that Rutherford doesn’t know what he’s going to do. The season is still young, and it remains to be seen which goalie will emerge as the starter in Pittsburgh. If it’s Murray, Fleury might want to be a starter elsewhere and Rutherford’s decision will be an easy one.

If it’s Fleury, the decision could be tougher. While keeping both goalies would be nice, it would also be expensive. Next season, Fleury and Murray will make a combined cap hit of $9.5 million, and there’s only one net.

Again, though, a decision doesn’t have to be made now.

“Our focus this year is winning,” said Rutherford, “and we’ll deal with the expansion draft at the appropriate time.”

Goalie nods: Price to make long-awaited season debut

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 13: Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens stands during the anthem prior to a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 13, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Canadiens 5-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Leave a comment


That was the likely refrain from Habs fans on Thursday, as head coach Michel Therrien confirmed that Carey Price‘s long-awaited season debut would happen tonight, when Montreal hosts Arizona at the Bell Centre.

Price, who missed almost all of last year with a knee injury, hasn’t played since late November of 2015 (his last appearance at home was on Nov. 22.) While he did recover to backstop Canada to the World Cup of Hockey championship, he caught a nasty case of the flu prior to the start of the regular season, and sat for the Canadiens’ first three games of the year.

Price’s backup, Al Montoya, did incredibly well in relief, going 2-0-1 with a 1.30 GAA and .926 save percentage.

Speaking of backups, the Coyotes will have theirs between the pipes tonight as Louis Domingue makes his first start of the season, in place of the injured Mike Smith. Smith was returned to Arizona today to be re-evaluated by team doctors.


— Good matchup in Boston, where Tuukka Rask and the B’s host Cory Schneider and the Devils.

John Gibson is back for the Ducks, after allowing two goals on 28 shots in a loss to New Jersey on Tuesday. He’ll be up against Steve Mason, who gets the nod for Philly after replacing Michal Neuvirth in a defeat to Chicago.

— The Stanley Cup Final rematch between San Jose and Pittsburgh has a slightly different look: Martin Jones, the Sharks’ usual starter, is in goal but Marc-Andre Fleury, who backed up Matt Murray last spring, goes for the Pens. Murray is out with a hand injury.

— It’s Braden Holtby versus Roberto Luongo as the Caps visit the Panthers in Florida.

— Colorado goes right back to Semyon Varlamov after he allowed three goals on 40 shots in Tuesday’s loss to Washington. Ben Bishop is in goal for the Lightning.

Jhonas Enroth makes his Maple Leafs debut in Minnesota. He’ll go up against Devan Dubnyk.

— The Kings will try their luck with Peter Budaj tonight against Dallas. Budaj replaces the ineffective Jeff Zatkoff, who replaced the injured Jonathan Quick. The Stars are going with Kari Lehtonen.

— After Chad Johnson started the last two games, Brian Elliott regains the net for Calgary. He’ll be up against Eddie Lack, who allowed four goals on 31 shots in Sunday’s loss to Vancouver.

Jake Allen versus Cam Talbot tonight in Edmonton, as the Oilers host the Blues.

Jacob Markstrom makes his third straight start for the Canucks, who host the Sabres. Ryan Miller will return to back up after missing Tuesday’s win over the Blues with “tightness.” For Buffalo, it looks like Robin Lehner in goal.

An encouraging start for the Leafs, except for the blown leads

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his first career NHL goal against the Ottawa Senators with team mates Jake Gardiner #51, Nikita Zaitsev #22 and Martin Marincin #52 at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a young team, and they showed it last night when they jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Winnipeg, only to lose, 5-4, in overtime.

Winnipeg scored three times in the third and Patrik Laine completed his hat trick in overtime, marking the second time this young season that the Jets had won a game they trailed 4-1 after 40 minutes.

“They got better in the third and, in the end, you get what you get,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s disappointing, you want to shut the game down.”

Frederik Andersen had another tough outing. The Leafs’ starting goalie allowed five goals for the second time this season. After three starts, his save percentage sits at just .876. It’s still very early, and he did play well Saturday, but it’s a story worth monitoring given he’s signed through 2020-21 with a $5 million cap hit.

Overall, though, it’s been an encouraging start for the blue and white. Auston Matthews and William Nylander have been a dangerous duo offensively, even if Babcock would like them to be better defensively. Mitch Marner has shown well; he scored his first NHL goal on Saturday. The Leafs have had a chance to win all three of their games. They did win one of them; they blew third-period leads in the two others, falling both times in overtime.

Toronto plays again tonight in Minnesota, then finishes its road trip Saturday in Chicago.

Backup Jhonas Enroth is scheduled to be in goal against the Wild, his first regular-season start as a Leaf.

Auditions for Gaudreau-Monahan linemate in Calgary continue

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

One of the most appealing — and vacant — forward positions in the league will have a new look on Thursday night, as Alex Chiasson gets his chance to skate with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on Calgary’s top line.

That spot was initially held by Kris Versteeg, who turned down a contract in Edmonton partly because of the opportunity to play with Gaudreau and Monahan. Versteeg got his shot, but didn’t have much success — no goals, just one assist through the first four games — and was replaced by Chiasson during Tuesday’s 4-3 OT win over the Sabres.

Chiasson, 26, is an interesting candidate. He broke into the NHL with Dallas under current Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan — scoring six goals and seven points in seven games — and has, at times, shown offensive promise.

He scored 13 goals and 35 points for the Stars during the ’13-14 campaign, and 11 goals and 26 points for Ottawa two years ago. The Boston University product fell on hard times after that, though — his offense really dried up for the Sens last season, and he was flipped to Calgary in exchange for d-man Patrick Sieloff.

The goal, it would seem, is to find the next Jiri Hudler. The veteran Czech winger enjoyed a terrific year playing with Gaudreau and Monahan in ’14-15, scoring a career-high 31 goals and 76 points.