The retirement of Brian Rafalski threw a proverbial wrench into the Red Wings offseason system. After all, the Wings were going into this summer worrying about captain Nick Lidstrom hanging ‘em up, not Rafalski. Not their number two guy.
With Rafalski, the Wings had a veteran, reliable, puck moving defenseman. He could score even strength and on the powerplay. He could also kill penalties, and was proficient in just about every situation he was put in.
Obviously now the Wings will need to find a replacement, especially since they are still awaiting a decision about Lidstrom’s future as well. For a while now, rumors have been swirling that the Wings might go after Nashville’s Shea Weber, but let’s be honest, that won’t happen.
Weber is a restricted free agent, and considering he is Nashville’s best player and team captain, they will match ANY offer sheet thrown at him, unless it’s ridiculously high in nature.
In which case, the team getting him would be in trouble, because then they would be overpaying him by probably about $2 million, and they would owe their next 4 first round picks as compensation. Plus Detroit and Nashville are divisional rivals, and I just don’t see Weber making that kind of move.
The Wings are great at drafting, but that’s a really hefty price. GM Ken Holland has also gone on record saying he is not interested in pursuing RFA’s, so the Shea Weber rumors can stop right now. When you take Weber out of the mix, there are three big realistic options for Detroit: Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, and James Wisniewski.
With Bieksa, the Wings would get the physical presence their critics always clamor about, and he has also shown offensive upside. Twice in his short career he has potted at least 11 goals and upwards of 40 points.
Those numbers fall a little short of where Rafalski’s production was, but perhaps his physicality would make up for it, especially with Niklas Kronwall continuing to hone his offensive game.
With Ehrhoff, the Wings would be getting the player probably most similar to Rafalski’s style. Ehrhoff has put up back to back 14 goal seasons, and hit the 50 point plateau this year, which would help cover Rafalski’s production.
Also like Rafalski, Ehrhoff is a smooth skater with a good shot, and he can move the puck well. A good first pass is essential in the Red Wings system, and Ehrhoff has it.
With Wisniewski, the Wings would be getting the youngest and probably most unproven of these 3 defenseman. Wisniewski showed some increased production when placed in a larger role this year, and like the others mentioned here, could be a 40-50 point scorer.
He shows a lot of potential, and has the added draw of being a Metro Detroit native. Ken Holland has a sweet spot for hometown heroes, so he may be the frontrunner.
All three of these potential pickups are solid NHL defenseman. All three of them are effective in all three zones, all three are in their prime, and they all can fit into the Detroit system. Pending a Stanley Cup win for Vancouver, the Wings may also be looking at adding yet another Cup winner to their roster, should they pursue Bieksa or Ehrhoff.
It’s highly unlikely all three will be resigned by their respective teams, and Detroit is a great place to play, so this should be an interesting situation for Holland and the Red Wings to play out. As talented as Bieksa, Ehrhoff, and Wisniewski are, none of them are Brian Rafalski, and whoever the Wings do sign will need to step up to fill his shoes.