Brian Rafalski cites injuries and wanting time with family for retiring from NHL

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When word broke out on Monday about Brian Rafalski retiring from the NHL, the speculation ran high as to what might make a 37 year-old guy want to give up the game they love so seemingly early. Whether it’s us being spoiled by seeing guys play well into their 40s (Chris Chelios, Mark Recchi, Teemu Selanne, Nicklas Lidstrom) or the fact that we don’t think of someone being 37 as being old, Rafalski’s news caught us off guard.

During Rafalski’s press conference in Detroit in which he officially announced his retirement, the reasons why he’s calling it quits became that much more clear and apparent. He also made it more than clear that the $6 million he was due to make next season wasn’t even a thought in his mind as to whether or not he would stick it out one more year.

“After 15 years of playing professional hockey, I’d like to announce my retirement,” Rafalski said during a news conference at Joe Louis Arena, adding he made the decision two months ago. “It’s been a challenging season, both physically, mentally and spiritually, but also rewarding.

“It’s time for me to move on.”

Rafalski also cited that his son is starting high school next year and that being there for him was important. Rafalski, a spiritual man himself, cited his reasons for calling it quits.

“Three factors that led to my decision: Serving God, my family and others,” Rafalski said.

Personal beliefs like that don’t make much of an appearance with hockey players as that’s always treated as a very personal matter. Rafalski was more than open about owing his decision to his faith in having the courage to retire. Ongoing problems with his back and knee as well as the ability to keep up with the speed in the NHL these days were major factors.

As for the money he’s leaving on the table by retiring, that didn’t even enter into his mind.

“As far as money goes, there are more important things.”

In an age when money is often viewed as the main motivation for players to stick it out and keep playing even in spite of being past their prime, Rafalski is a proud man. As CBC’s Elliotte Friedman noted in his 30 Things column this week, there’s some things that even a player of Rafalski’s caliber still can’t get past to discuss them.

What I’ll remember about Brian Rafalski: As we approached the one-year anniversary of Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal, how many reporters wanted to do a story? 1,000? Rafalski refused, wanting no part of it. Here’s a guy who won three Stanley Cups and two Olympic silver medals. But he was so bothered about being beaten on that one goal he wouldn’t discuss it. I admire that, considering there’s one thing in my career I’ll never get over, either.

Rafalski’s career was a great one amassing 515 points with the Red Wings and New Jersey Devils and winning the Stanley Cup three times, twice in New Jersey and once in Detroit. Winning two silver medals for Team USA in 2002 and 2010 are also tremendous accomplishments. While he’s not likely to end up being a Hockey Hall of Famer, his spot in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame is secure as is his legacy as one of the top American defensemen of all time ranking up there with Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, and Phil Housley.

Rafalski’s retirement will now put the focus on Detroit to find a way to fill out ranks on the blue line in the offseason. With Nicklas Lidstrom’s future still up in the air as well as Jonathan Ericsson and Ruslan Salei set to be unrestricted free agents, the Red Wings could be looking at a major rebuild this summer. They’ll also have a lot more money to play with in the free agent market as well so expect the Wings’ summer to be a fascinating one.

Looks like Laine, Jets are heating up

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Big breaks can be really nice for NHL teams, but sometimes you wonder if the timing is all wrong. It will be interesting to see if the Winnipeg Jets (and Patrik Laine) feel that way about their upcoming breather.

The Jets had really been cooking after shaking off a tough start from Steve Mason (the Jets dropped their first two games in ugly fashion). By edging the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Friday, the Jets have now won four of their last five contests.

As you can see from the video above, Laine played a significant role in that win, showing that he might have some potential from “Alex Ovechkin‘s office” on Winnipeg’s power play. Laine doubled his 2017-18 goals total from two to four with that effort, pushing him to six points in seven games.

Laine was unleashing that lethal shot with aplomb last night, too, firing eight shots on goal.

(Last night’s edition of The Buzzer notes that it was a milestone night for Paul Maurice and Blake Wheeler, who collected his 200th assist in sending the puck to Laine’s wheelhouse.)

The Jets have high hopes for 2017-18, and Laine’s a big part of that excitement, so it was nice to see him unleashed.

If it’s a matter of rhythm, then this break is a bummer. Their next game doesn’t take place until Thursday, making for almost a week off, just when they were really sizzling. It’s a tough haul for the next while, so maybe they’ll take advantage of the break (or get rusty?):

Thu, Oct 26 @ Pittsburgh
Fri, Oct 27 @ Columbus
Sun, Oct 29 vs Pittsburgh
Tue, Oct 31 @ Minnesota

November isn’t a breezy month for the Jets, either, so Winnipeg has to hope that they can carry over some of this momentum.

For more Jets-related fun, check out this interesting NHL.com piece about how Connor Hellebuyck is changing things up.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Look at what Rangers are up against right now

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You have to really squint to find bright sides to look on if you’re the New York Rangers.

The Rangers are currently on a five-game losing streak and have one shabby win to show for their first eight games of 2017-18, and they’ll shortly face a challenge in the Nashville Predators, who are riding a five-game point streak (4-0-1 after losing their first two games).

With six of those eight games coming at home, the Rangers are really squandering opportunities in the malicious Metro. About the only positive things you can say boil down to: a) scrapping two “loser points” out of the past two games and b) the team at least saying the right things, as Rick Nash notes according to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks.

“The bad teams I’ve been on, guys get away from the game plan, they don’t give the effort and there’s finger-pointing, whether in the room between guys; from the coach; or in the media. That’s what happens when things get away from you as a team.

“None of that is happening here,” Nash said. “We’re together and we’re focusing on taking this one step at a time.”

They might be wise not to look at the divisional standings. Just consider some of the teams they’re up against:

Devils (12 points in 8 games): New Jersey currently has a perfect road record and a fleet of young legs, something the transitional Rangers must envy. Even if they’re likely to slip (being blanked by the Sharks could be an early sign of regression), the Devils figure to be a tougher out this season.

Penguins (11 points in 8 games): Not much needs to be said, though it’s worth noting that they’ve won three in a row.

Blue Jackets (10 points in 7 games): All signs point to former Rangers coach John Tortorella’s group being very much the threat that once surprised us.

Capitals (9 points in 8 games): Finding ways to win, and scrappy in particular on the road so far (3-1-1 away record).

Flyers (8 points in 7 games): Might be better than their record indicates, at least judging by their +9 goal differential. Philly has the potential to at least be a pesky “bubble” team.

Hurricanes (7 points in 5 games): Light early schedule might keep them under the radar, for now.

Islanders (7 points in 7 games): Mixed results might not help the Islanders retain John Tavares, but a competent Isles team would only make it tougher for the Rangers.

Yeesh, kind of discouraging, right?

The Rangers currently sit at four points in eight games played, and like this post argues, they really need to wake up soon. They’ve already played six home vs. two road contests, and they face a similar saturation of MSG going forward.

Counting today’s game hosting the rising Predators, the Rangers play the next three in a row at home. After that, they play three of four on the road, but then enjoy a three-game homestand.

So, by Nov. 11, they’ll have played 13 games at home and just five on the road.

One gets the sense that the seat is getting hotter for Alain Vigneault by the day. Fair or not, it might feel like it’s boiling if the Rangers are still a wreck in mid-November.

(If he still has a seat at the table, at all.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Devils fans help singer who forgot words to national anthem (Video)

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The biggest save of the night at Prudential Center on Friday didn’t come from either goaltender, but rather New Jersey Devils fans in attendance for their game against the San Jose Sharks.

Lauralie Mufute began singing the national anthem but midway through forgot the words. That’s when the crowd of 14,381 picked up where the 14-year-old left off and finished the song.

A great job by the crowd in what certainly was a terrifying moment for the young performer.

These flaps happen, as we’ve seen many times before in different situations. It’s always good to know the crowd can act as backup singers in times of need.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin’s blast lifts Capitals in OT, Sheary speeds by Panthers

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Player of the night: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin has already reached double digits in goals scored in this new campaign. The Capitals’ star recorded his 10th goal of the season on Friday and it counted as the overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Capitals trailed late in the third period, but T.J. Oshie scored the tying goal and Ovechkin won it on a power play less than two minutes into the extra period, as he deployed that famous one-timer slap shot from his off-wing. This time, Petr Mrazek was victimized by the wicked slapper.

Ovechkin is now only two goals behind the entire Montreal Canadiens team — in the same amount of games.

Highlight of the night:

What a weapon speed is in today’s National Hockey League. Conor Sheary illustrated that once again, as he saw a little bit of room down the left side and flew around Alex Petrovic before making a move to the backhand on James Reimer. That goal counted as the eventual winner, as the Penguins defeated the Panthers 4-3. Earlier in the third period, Sheary and Roberto Luongo came together near the Florida net, causing Luongo’s right hand to get caught against the post, injuring the Panthers’ netminder.

Factoid of the night:

It was a milestone night in Winnipeg for Blake Wheeler and coach Paul Maurice.

Scores:

Vancouver 4, Buffalo 2

San Jose 3, New Jersey 0

Washington 4, Detroit 3 (OT)

Pittsburgh 4, Florida 3

Winnipeg 4, Minnesota 3

Anaheim 6, Montreal 2

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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