Ken Holland plays it safe, and smart; adds depth to blueline in early free agency

By Mike Suggs

As the first frenzied hours of free agency started to wind down, the Detroit Red Wings were still left with the task of finding a replacement for Brian Rafalski on their blueline.  With the Wings’ top choices either taken away before they even hit the market, or asking for inflated contracts, Ken Holland’s hands appeared to be a bit tied.

It seemed as though the Wings’ only two options were to either go for recent Stanley Cup Champion Tomas Kaberle, or make a trade of some sort.  Kaberle undoubtedly saw his stock drop off considerably, after he failed to produce at his expected level once he was traded to Boston.

Coupled with a reported asking price of $4.5 million per season, it seemed that a trade was the more likely option.  Especially considering Grerg Brady of Sportsnet Radio, reported that the Wings have been shopping Jiri Hudler since the draft last week.

Alas, Ken Holland could not wait any longer on a trade partner, nor could he wait for Kaberle to lower his asking price, so he decided to do the best with what he was given.  First, Holland threw everyone a bit of a curveball, by signing recently bought out defenseman Mike Commodore, formerly of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The deal is for one year, at $1 million.

Commodore sustained an injury last year, that limited him to just 20 games, and the Blue Jackets bought out the remainder of his contract just as free agency started.  This signing surprised quite a few people, as Commodore and Red Wings head coach, Mike Babcock, had a somewhat publicized feud back in 2009.

Back when Babcock coached for Anaheim, he had a hand in trading Commodore from the Ducks, to Calgary.  In 2009, Commodore said Babcock had been an “obstacle in my career.”  That’s about as far as it went, but the potential for tension had people scratching their heads.

Commodore and Babcock have since smoothed things over, so it doesn’t appear that will be an issue in the coming season.  Now, Commodore will not put up the kind of numbers that Rafalski did.  The truth is, Commodore just isn’t as good of a player as Rafalski is, but this was a smart decision by Detroit.

Commodore is a beast on the ice, standing at 6’4 and weighing in at 233 pounds, so he will definitely add some size to the Red Wings’ back end.  He also plays a physical game, and is a tough competitor.  Perhaps most importantly, he is a right handed shot, which is something the Red Wings needed more of.

He probably won’t ever see power play time, but he has been a top four defenseman in his career, he plays with grit, and he can serve as a good potential partner for young Jakub Kindl.  Overall, he was a low risk, high reward signing for Detroit.

Holland continued his quest to patch up his team’s Rafalski sized hole, by signing 27 year old defenseman Ian White to a two year deal.  The deal is worth $5.75 million, which will pay $2.875 million per season.  Honestly, this signing is probably one of the most underrated moves so far in free agency.

Ian White spent the latter parts of last season, and the playoffs with the San Jose Sharks.  White scored 1o points in 23 games with the Sharks, while serving in a top four role, and taking the point on the power play.  At 5’10 and 200 pounds, he may not be the biggest guy, but he plays with a lot grit and toughness.

White can make good tape-to-tape passes out of the zone, he is mobile, and plays a similar style to Brian Rafalski.  Just to clarify, he won’t score as much as Rafalski, but he plays a puck moving game, and he is effective on the power play.  Not to mention he is also a right handed shot (the second one the Wings have added, in as many days).

Like Commodore, White also plays with a bit of a mean streak, which could prove to be a breath of fresh air into the Red Wings system.  The fact that Holland got a guy like White, who was a top four defenseman last season, to sign on for under $3 million per year, seems like a bit of  a miracle in a climate like this.

So was it anti-climactic for Red Wings fans, who expected their team to be going after big name players?  Of course it is, but the bottom line here is that Ken Holland made some smart decisions for his team, after his hands got tied by half of the other GM’s in the league. The Red Wings kept their pay structure in tact, and didn’t get involved in the overspending bonanza taking place around the league.

It appears as though when it comes to replacing Rafalski’s production, at least for this year, it will be a collective defensive corps effort.  Niklas Kronwall has shown he is ready to step up his offense, Nick Lidstrom will continue to defy time and logic with his stellar play, Jonathan Ericsson and Brad Stuart will be given increased responsibility, and the new guys will be expected to chip in as much as they can.

With the additions of White and Commodore, the Detroit defense just got a bit tougher to play against, and that’s all anyone in Detroit can really ask for.

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