Update (8:14 PM): George has more details, including this brief portrait of what Rafalski meant to the team:
When healthy, the Wings couldnâ€™t replace Rafalski with $8 millionâ€”he posts nearly a point per game and provided a fantastic outlet pass, an underrated shot, and supremely veteran savvyâ€¦But when heâ€™s hurt, heâ€™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?Â – 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.Â – 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.