The Detroit Red Wings were at least lightly shocked when Brian Rafalski announced his retirement after they were bounced from the 2011 playoffs. GM Ken Holland & Co. probably thought that a great, aging defenseman might retire this off-season, but most expected it to be Nicklas Lidstrom rather than Rafalski.
Yet Rafalski was the one who decided to hang up his skates because of injury issues, forcing the Red Wings to move on without their second most valuable blueliner. As usual, the team has been wise to take a measured approach to replacing his contributions rather than throwing way too much money at Christian Ehrhoff, James Wisniewski or some other over-priced defensive talent.
Ian White might be part of the solution
Maybe the Red Wings are overpaying a bit by signing Ian White to a two-year deal worth about $5.75 million overall (or $2.875 million), but it’s not the kind of outlandish deal that will put them in a big hole in the future. Instead, the additions of White and the frugal signing of hard-hitting, red-afro’d defenseman Mike Commodore will help Detroit absorb some of the blow of losing Rafalski, even if their defense might take another step back in 2010-11.
(Unless, of course, they enjoy a certain “addition by subtraction” that comes from an aging defenseman hanging up his skates when his time had come.)
White began his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs before moving on to Calgary in 2009-10. He bounced around quite a bit last season, going from Calgary to Carolina and finally to San Jose, where he seemed to fit in very nicely. White was especially strong in the playoffs, scoring nine points in 17 postseason contests. The Sharks were probably interested in re-signing White until they traded for Brent Burns, an All-Star scoring blueliner with the Minnesota Wild. It’s likely that the Red Wings enjoyed what they saw of White during their seven-game series with the Sharks in the 2011 playoffs and decided he might be a good addition in Detroit.
Replacing Rafalski by committee
Really, the only bad contract Holland handed out was to homegrown talent Jonathan Ericsson, who simply hasn’t played well enough recently to justify his three-year, $9.75 million deal. Still, when you think about it, Ericsson and White won’t cost much more combined ($6.125 million) than Rafalski ($6 million) would have in 2011-12. The trio of Ericsson, White and Commodore probably won’t be as proficient as Rafalski is on an individual basis, but they might help the Red Wings remain playoff-relevant by committee.
That being said, the Red Wings’ future will probably come down to the usual: Lidstrom’s otherworldly play and the great work by talented forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. White simply might help to set the table for them every now and then.