Archive for May, 2011

Rafalski’s Retirement Speech and Q&A

Speech linked in the headline, the Q&A’s here. The media seems to be playing up the injury aspect of Rafalski’s decision, but I think that’s not much more than the straw that broke the camel’s back. I think this is about a guy who apparently underwent a spiritual reawakening more than it is anything else. Rafalski sees his life with new eyes now, and it wouldn’t completely surprise me if he makes this same decision even if his body weren’t breaking down.

That’s probably not the reason most fans were hoping to hear, but I think it’s the big one in Rafi’s mind. Whatever it is he’s going to do, he’s going to go at it with the drive that was evident in his hockey career. I’m happy for him. There are things more important to hockey and it takes a lot of character to walk away from $6 million, especially realizing you won’t be able to really earn it with your new mindset. I think he knew he was going to have trouble focusing on hockey if he stuck around, so he bowed out before it became a real issue.

Stunned: Rafalski Retiring?

Update (8:14 PM): George has more details, including this brief portrait of what Rafalski meant to the team:

When healthy, the Wings couldn’t replace Rafalski with $8 million—he posts nearly a point per game and provided a fantastic outlet pass, an underrated shot, and supremely veteran savvy…But when he’s hurt, he’s in and out of the lineup and his mobility becomes an issue, to the point that he looks like Slava Fetisov, who got hit every time he made a pass at the end of his career.

Rafalski had his rough points during his time with the team, but I think we’re really going to miss his work on the point on the power play. Nick is the technical quarterback there, but without Rafalski complementing him so well, the Wings’ PP just got a lot less deadly. No one on the market can pick up that slack, I don’t think.

But that “when healthy” caveat obviously becomes more weighted in a situation where Rafalski is considering retirement because of physical issues. Even if it’s not set in stone, as the Wings would like us to think, and Rafalski comes back, this season showed he may not be that player any more. It’s too bad. I can’t shake a feeling like it’s the end of an era: no more slick offensive #2 dealing out breakout passes and playing catch with Nick.

Until the next #2, I guess. Kronwall can fill that role, right? – Matt

Update (6:28 PM): @Lolabythebay (and others) point out that Rafalski has been without an ACL in one knee for a long, long time, so Kypreos’ bit about his playing without an ACL in the playoffs may be kind of a yawner. Or he could be talking about another injury. Who knows. – Matt

Update (6:20 PM): Megan made a good point when we discussed this after I got home: with Kronwall’s playoff, Holland doesn’t need to find a Rafalski replacement so much as a Kronwall replacement. Nik showed himself ready to step into the #2 role and be on deck for #1, which means he can step into Rafalski’s shoes. That leaves a #3/#4 spot open, which lowers the bar a bit for Holland. – Matt

Update (5:54 PM): Helene St. James seems to be behind the eight-ball, though. – Matt

Update (5:50 PM): It’s official. – Matt

Bombshell drops just as I’m about to wrap things up here at work: Rafalski may be retiring. The reports, via Petrella, indicate he’s heading out before his body completely breaks down. The guy apparently played without an ACL in the playoffs, which ought to shut up some of his critics (it won’t).

If this is true, it leaves the Wings’ defense on shaky ground, with Nick Lidstrom’s status for next season up in the air. But it does clear up $6 million in cap space, so there is a plus side. You can start speculating about how Ken Holland will fill the hole with CapGeek’s fancy tool. Don’t get too excited at the prospect of Shea Weber, thanks to his RFA status, though. And the UFA market sucks for defensemen, Bieksa aside. A trade may be necessary, but to replace Rafalski, that’d be expensive. It’s going to be interesting to see how Kenny handles this.

Also, how does Nick handle it? Does he say, “welp, there goes the contending part. I’m out.”? I hope not.

Taking off my Red Wings fan cap for a minute, if Rafalski’s body really is in that kind of shape, he’d be making the right decision to retire. Sucks for the Wings in a lot of ways, but it’s the best thing for him. So good luck, if that’s what you decide, Brian. You’ll be missed.

Good News, Bad News

Checking in a week later, briefly:

First, the good news: Brad McCrimmon’s out (via). Dreger’s report was confirmed by a Wings press release I got today. So that’s good. I assume no tears will be shed in the ‘base over that decision.

Now the bad news: Ilari Filppula’s gone. That really bums me out. Ilari was a great player for the Griffins and could have been a solid bit player in Detroit eventually.

Anyway, that’s it for now. It’s going to be an interesting off-season and if I can get over some writer’s block, I’ll tell you what I think about one element of it. Also, the promised season retrospective will come in one form or another at some point.

Thank You

Thank you for finishing the season with that push, Wings. It was incredible and exciting to watch and a playoff to remember. You brought it down to the wire and I can’t believe it’s over.

There’ll be a time for a post-mortem on the season and because there will be some negative comments in that, it’s not now. Right now, I’m proud of this team for not giving up down 3 games to none. So many things to be hopeful about came out of this series even with the disappointing end: Jimmy Howard, Pavel Datsyuk, Nik Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg. There’s plenty of reason to look forward to next season already.

I had a ton of fun watching the team this year with the Twitterati and you readers—thanks for your interactions and for being such great fans to learn from.

To the Sharks, I have nothing to say except that I hope the Canucks utterly destroy you. I don’t remember ever having less respect for the team that beat the Wings in the playoffs, except perhaps the 2007 Ducks. It’s still choking if it happens in the third round.

I don’t know that I’ll do a write-up on this game. You know how it went. I’ll put up some comments on the season in general at some point, but I’m not going to lie: playoff eliminations take the wind out of my blogging sails.

Game 7: @ San Jose

I’m going to jump right into the keys today, because I don’t think this game needs a setup. And keeping it simple because when I’m too jittery to say more.

Keys to the game for the Sharks:

Keep Cool: They lost it late Tuesday night and displaying that kind of frustration should things not go their way tonight would be a one-way ticket to the golf course. They need to stay focused on hockey and not fall for the temptation to lash out.

Niemi: I finally have to admit the guy’s been huge for the Sharks. He needs to be again tonight. If he can put on another show like he did in Game 6, the Wings’ job becomes that much harder and the Sharks’ that much easier.

Keep Cool: It bears repeating. If they play their game minus the Thornton-led bull, they’ll be in great shape.

The big question for the Sharks is whether or not Ryane Clowe is playing. He’s got to skate first and if he can go, he’ll be in. He’s a definite fourth key to the game for them and changes the equation of the game. How much is a question to be settled on the ice, but at minimum Clowe would make it tougher for the Wings.

Keys to the game for the Wings:

Score Early: And I mean early. And preferably a pair. If they can get the Sharks thinking “Oh here we go…” they’ll be in great shape.

Keep Skating: The basis for the Wings’ success Tuesday night was that the Wings kept their feet moving just about all the time. They kept them moving going into the corner for the puck, going to the net after a shot, and in every other situation. They can’t fall back to coasting around. This game is going to be hard work and that means moving feet.

Jimmy Howard: Jimmy is the reason the Wings have a chance at making history. He is going to be called upon to continue the standard of excellence he’s set in this series and he has to follow through.

Justin Abdelkader doesn’t look to be headed for a spot on the sideline, after a Babcock heart-to-heart. Franzen, meanwhile, may be healing in time to be in and be effective. We’ll see.

Are you stressed yet?

Game 6: Wings 3, Sharks 1

Dominance: This is what it looks like. The Wings owned this game from start to finish, with the Sharks getting five minutes, if that, of anything resembling pushback spread out throughout the game. Unlike recent dominant stretches, there was little to now flagging as time went on and the Wings couldn’t beat Niemi. They didn’t get discouraged. They just kept coming at him. That was reason enough to feel it would continue into the second after a dominant first, and to believe it would continue into the third after a dominant second.

The Sharks goal did derail the Wings briefly and for a couple minutes it seemed like it may be a game headed for a tragically unfair end, but the Wings obviously didn’t feel that way. They dialed it back up and took care of business, treating us to some of the most thrilling hockey I’ve seen in years.

Filppula: Huge game at just the right time. Dan Cleary would have missed that lay-up goal from Datsyuk.

Cleary: Missed more chances than the Sharks had (only a slight exaggeration). I expect his luck to catch up to him on Thursday. He should have a huge game.

Kronwall: Continues to be a revelaton. He’s been the most important defender in this series and continued with another great game last night.

Jimmy: At 20 shots faced and with the Wings’ dominance, you’d think he wasn’t tested much, but he had a huge game in the few times he was truly needed. He looked bad on the Sharks’ goal, but made up for it with some huge saves. He’s still  the reason the Wings have gotten to this point and if  you’re still doubting his status as an elite goaltender, you’re sad.

Thornton: He’s a real class act, with his cheapshot post-horn hit on Datsyuk and his late man slash on Zetterberg. I gotta say I hope he’s in that mindset tomorrow, because the Wings will skate circles around a team led into stupidity like that. A guy that talented shouldn’t feel the need to resort to such idiocy.

Datsyuk: Still playing with an injury and still looking great doing it. I would have loved to have seen him more personally embarrass the Sharks, but the pass across to Fil was pretty good as a consolation prize. Maybe he can rub their faces in it tomorrow.

Zetterberg: He’s tuning up and continuing to impress. You start to wonder how the Wings did it without him and then you remember that this team is good.

Abelkader: Continues to do his best to be the goat, with another late penalty. I would love to see him sit tomorrow, though Draper’s not exactly free from the dumb penalty bug. We’ll see.

Modano: Made a few good plays and had a hand in some solid rushes, but wasn’t huge for them. He wasn’t a big drag, though, and that’s the point. That said, I hope a few days off are enough to get Franzen up and running again. Probably not, but it’d be cool to have him back for Game 7 if he can contribute.

The Crowd: Great again, with plenty of cheering and plenty of energy. I loved seeing them standing with 8 minutes left, even though it made it harder to see the puck and even though it only lasted a short while.

Next: I don’t know where the Sharks’ heads are at. It’s easy to conclude from their late game frustration that the Wings are back in there, but it does no good to assume that. They’re not likely to go down without a fight. But if the Wings can crack Niemi early, the unraveling may begin then. The game has to pick up right where this one left off: with the Wings moving their feet and fighting for the puck to the same degree. Last night, they wanted it bad. They have to want it even more tomorrow.

It’s going to be epic.