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.