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.

NHL adds times, exhibition games to 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers playoff schedule

Dates times NHL 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers exhibition schedule
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Hockey fans got a decent idea of how they’ll get their playoff fix (COVID-19 permitting) when the NHL shared an outline of a schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The NHL shared more specifics regarding dates and times for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Tuesday, though, and also the exhibition schedule.

You can now plan your NHL playoff viewing schedule accordingly from July 28 – Aug. 5, with other game times to be determined starting on Aug. 6.

Speaking of to-be-determined, broadcast information will come later.

NHL return-to-play exhibition schedule

As you can see, the NHL exhibition schedule begins on Tuesday, July 28 and runs through Thursday, July 30:

NHL exhibition game schedule 2020 Stanley Cup
via the NHL

Dates, times, NHL playoff schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Check out the most updated schedule information for each series involved in the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, via the NHL:

STANLEY CUP QUALIFIERS BY SERIES

EASTERN CONFERENCE (all games at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto)

(All times, TV information will be announced at a later date; home team listed second)

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers

Saturday, Aug. 1: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers

Saturday, Aug. 1: Panthers vs. Islanders, 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 4 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

Round-robin

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE (all games at Rogers Place, Edmonton)

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 3 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets

Saturday, Aug. 1: Jets vs. Flames, 10:30 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames vs. Jets, 4:45 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

Round-robin

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Stars vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD

* – if necessary

Day-by-day version of playoff schedule for NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Prefer a day-by-day format instead? Want both? The NHL also shared that version, if it works better for you:

STANLEY CUP QUALIFIERS DAY-BY-DAY SCHEDULE

(All times ET; TV information will be announced at a later date; home team listed second)

Saturday, Aug. 1

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Game 1, 12 p.m.
Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders, Game 1, 4 p.m.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 1, 8 p.m.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers, Game 1, 3 p.m.
Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames, Game 1, 10:30 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 2

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Round-robin

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Boston Bruins, 3 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Game 1, 8 p.m.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Arizona Coyotes vs, Nashville Predators, Game 1, 2 p.m.

Round-robin

St. Louis Blues vs. Colorado Avalanche, 6:30 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 1, 10:30 p.m,

Monday, Aug. 3

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Game 2, 12 p.m.

Round-robin

Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 4 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 2, 8 p.m.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames, Game 2, 2:30 p.m.

Round-robin

Dallas Stars vs. Vegas Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers, Game 2, 10:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Aug. 4

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders, Game 2, 12 p.m.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Game 2, 4 p.m.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers, Game 3, 8 p.m.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators, Game 2, 2:30 p.m.
Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets, Game 3, 6:45 p.m.
Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 2, 10:45 p.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 5

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers, Game 3, 12 p.m. ET

Round-robin

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins, 4 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, Game 3, 8 p.m. ET

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes, Game 3, 2:30 p.m.

Round-robin

Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars, 6:30 p.m,

Best-of-5 series

Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Game 3, 10:30 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 6

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Game 3, TBD
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers, Game 4*, TBD

Round-robin

Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild, Game 3, TBD
Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets, Game 4*, TBD

Round-robin

Vegas Golden Knights vs. St. Louis Blues, TBD

Friday, Aug. 7

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers, Game 4*, TBD
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, Game 4*, TBD
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Game 4*, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes, Game 4*, TBD
Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild, Game 4*, TBD
Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Game 4*, TBD

Saturday, Aug. 8

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Game 5*, TBD
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Boston Bruins vs. Washington Capitals, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames, Game 5*, TBD
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche, TBD

Sunday, Aug. 9

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders, Game 5*, TBD
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 5*, TBD
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues, TBD

* – if necessary

Islanders sign goalie Sorokin to $2M deal for next season

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The New York Islanders on Tuesday signed goaltender of the future Ilya Sorokin to a $2 million contract for next season.

The deal includes $1 million in salary and a $1 million bonus. A day earlier, the Islanders signed Sorokin to an entry-level deal for the remainder of this season even though he’s not eligible to play.

Sorokin, 24, is considered one of the top prospects at any position not currently in the NHL. A third-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, he was among the Kontinental Hockey League’s best goalies this past season with a 1.50 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.

Two other teams signed Russian prospects Monday who can’t compete in the resumption of this season. The Montreal Canadiens signed defenseman Alexander Romanov for three years, and the Minnesota Wild signed forward Kirill Kaprizov for two years.

All three players are burning a year by signing for this season, a way of getting to more lucrative contracts sooner in the future.

The Islanders are one of several teams going into the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoffs with a goaltending competition. Coach Barry Trotz said he’ll let it play out between Russian Semyon Varlamov and German Thomas Greiss to determine who might start Game 1 of the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers on Aug. 1.

While Varlamov is under contract for three more seasons — perhaps in later years to mentor Sorokin — Greiss is a pending free agent. Sorkin backed up for the gold medal-winning Olympic Athletes from Russia at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and showed his NHL potential over several KHL seasons and world championships.

Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Panarin are 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award finalists

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Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers, Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche, and Artemi Panarin of the Rangers have been announced as the finalists for the 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award, which is given “to the most outstanding player in the NHL.”

The is voted on by fellow members of the NHL Players’ Association. Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov won the award last season.

Draisaitl and Panarin are first-time finalists, while this is the second time that MacKinnon is up for the award. The winner will be announced at some point during the conference finals.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

The case for Leon Draisaitl: The 2019-20 Art Ross Trophy winner, Draisaitl led the NHL with 110 points and finished third in the league with 43 goals. He played every game for the Oilers this season and was first in points per game (1.55), assists (67), and power play points (44). He was second in power play goals (16) behind David Pastrnak and second in even strength points (66) behind Panarin. A win would mark the third time the Oilers have taken home the award in the last four seasons. Connor McDavid was voted the TLA winner in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The case for Nathan MacKinnon: After missing only one game for the Avalanche this season, MacKinnon finished fourth with 93 points and led his team in scoring by 43 points. He was also seventh in goals (35), third overall in even strength points 962), fourth in power play points (31), and fifth in points per game (1.35). The 2019-20 season was the third straight year he finished with at least 35 goals and 90 points. It was also the third consecutive season he finished with exactly 58 assists. He would become only the second player in franchise history to win the award following Joe Sakic in 2000-01.

The case for Artemi Panarin: The Bread Man’s first year on Broadway was nothing short of spectacular. He set career highs in goals (32), assists (63), and points (95), led the NHL in even strength points (71), and was third in points per game (1.38). Prolific in production, he recorded points streaks of 12 and 13 games this season. He would become the second Ranger to win the award joining Jaromir Jagr (2005-06).

NHL AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCEMENT DATES
• Wednesday, July 15: Jack Adams Award, Calder Trophy
• Thursday, July 16: Lady Byng Trophy, Masterton Trophy
• Friday, July 17: Willie O’Ree Award, Vezina Trophy
• Monday, July 20: Norris Trophy, Selke Trophy
• Tuesday, July 21: Hart Trophy

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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.

Oilers remember Colby Cave as training camp opens

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As the Oilers skated for the first time together since the March 12 NHL pause, Colby Cave looked on from above.

With Rogers Place sporting some fresh ice, the image of the late Cave was on the scoreboard as the Oilers practiced Monday as training camps opened for the 24-team Return to Play.

Cave, 25, died April 11 after suffering a brain bleed. He was set to be one of the team’s Black Aces when play resumed.

“Colby was an unbelievable young man, great teammate. Obviously a friend to everybody in our locker room,” said Tippett. “He would be with us today if he hadn’t passed. He planned to be with our group. He’s with us in spirit.”

[Related: Cooper Marody honors late Colby Cave with tribute song]

The Oilers are preparing for their best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Oilers, which begins Aug. 1. Cave played 44 games with the Oilers in the last two seasons and spent most of 2019-20 with AHL Bakersfield. He had many friends on the roster, and his teammates will use his memory as inspiration going forward.

“This is first time we’ve all been together in a big group since Colby passed,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. “Those emotions are still fresh, and it makes it even more real now that we’re all together and he’s not able to join us. He’s going to be in our thoughts and in our hearts as we go forward and move through training camp and into the [playoffs], and hopefully, go on a deep run here.

“We’re going to play for Colby, and he’ll be with us throughout.”

MORE: Day 1 of NHL training camps: Uncertainty about Crawford, and more

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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.