Brian Rafalski had 48 points in 63 games for the Red Wings this season. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
The unexpected retirement of defenseman Brian Rafalski will push the Detroit Red Wings towards involvement in this summer's free agent market as they’ll need a reliable replacement for the veteran.
Rafalski, 37, was hampered this season by a bad back and a nagging knee injury which forced him to miss 19 games.
He’s walking away from the final year on his contract, which will clear $6 million of cap space from Detroit’s payroll in 2011-12 and provide GM Ken Holland with an opportunity to go shopping this summer.
Potential targets for the Wings include: Boston's Tomas Kaberle, Carolina's Joni Pitkanen, Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehrhoff, Montreal's James Wisniewski and Andrei Markov and the Rangers' Bryan McCabe.
Holland has the option of investing all of the $6 million into one “name” defenseman, or towards more depth by signing two blueliners with less skill, but more affordable salaries.
It's also possible Holland will go the offer sheet route and target restricted free agents such as Nashville's Shea Weber or Los Angeles' Drew Doughty, but the GM would have to offer up more than $6 million to pry either away from their team.
Holland's blueline problems will be compounded if team captain Nicklas Lidstrom also decides to retire, but given the 41-year-old is still playing at a high level (he's nominated for the Norris Trophy this season), there’s a sense he will return for another season.
It's expected Washington Capitals GM George McPhee will make some roster changes in the off-season, namely along the blueline.
Ben Raby of CSN Washington noted the Capitals currently have seven defensemen - Mike Green, Dennis Wideman, John Carlson, Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, Tyler Sloan and Tom Poti - under contract for next season, while restricted free agent Karl Alzner is expected to be re-signed and prospect Dmitry Orlov will make a push to crack the lineup this fall.
Poti's career is in jeopardy due to injuries, but Raby believes management would have to move some assets if it wanted to add another defenseman this summer.
Veteran Scott Hannan is expected to depart via free agency, although Katie Carrera of the Washington Post suggested if he were willing to accept less money on a short-term deal the Capitals would find room for him.
It's also possible McPhee will shop one or two players to add more leadership and depth at forward. Green's name continues to figure prominently in trade suggestions, along with left winger Alex Semin.
The Capitals also have depth in goal with Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth and promising Braden Holtby. McPhee may also package one of his goaltenders with Green or another defenseman to address his roster needs this summer.
Perhaps the Colorado Avalanche would make a good trade partner for the Capitals.
Adrian Dater of The Denver Post recently reported Avalanche management considered goaltending an area of “primary concern” this summer and expected the team to make some kind of move to address the issue.
Dater examined the potential free agent options and suggested Ilya Bryzgalov's poor playoff performance wouldn't make him a good fit, while Tomas Vokoun's age (35 in July) and history of playing for mediocre teams makes him more of a stopgap measure than a solution. Dater also dismissed J-S Giguere and Chris Osgood as potential free agent targets.
The trade route might be the best way to go, though Dater pointed out it would prove costly to acquire a promising young goalie such as Jonathan Bernier of the L.A. Kings or Cory Schneider of the Vancouver Canucks.
Despite their promise, Bernier and Schneider have yet to fully prove themselves in the NHL, which makes either a risky acquisition, while Varlamov and Neuvirth have more NHL experience.
The Avalanche and Capitals do have a recent trade history, with Colorado shipping Hannan to Washington earlier this season for versatile left winger Tomas Fleischmann, so perhaps they’ll be willing to work out another deal this summer.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.
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