After Brian Rafalski retired in late May, it was clear that the Red Wings wouldn’t be able to replace him through free agency alone.
He was a first class offensive defenseman, whose skills were not paralleled by anyone in this year’s free agent class. Though getting free agents was important, it went without saying that if the Wings wanted to fill Rafalski’s shoes, certain players from within the organization were going to have to step up.
The Red Wings drafted Kindl 19th overall in 2005, and he has bided his time in the organization for a few years now. He spent this past season as the Wings’ seventh defenseman, basically as an insurance policy in case someone got injured.
Kindl wound up playing 48 games for Detroit, giving the management and fans alike, a good idea of how he can perform at the NHL level. He got kind of a rough start, but he got noticeably better as he got more acclimated to his surroundings. Towards the end of the season, it looked like he could clearly handle full time NHL duty.
Rafalski’s retirement, coupled with the unlikely return of Ruslan Salei, seemingly guaranteed Kindl the full time roster spot he has earned. However, it seems free agency had other plans.
As was previously reported on this site, the Red Wings were unable to get the big name free agent defenseman they wanted, due to market inflation and their unwillingness to overpay like some of the other teams did.
This lead to the signings of Ian White, and Mike Commodore. Both are solid and safe signings, that will stabilize Detroit’s blueline after Rafalski’s departure. White is the more offensively talented of the two, and also happens to be a right handed shot, so he will take Rafalski’s spot in the top four. Commodore (who has played in a top four role before) will likely play on the third pairing with Jonathan Ericsson.
Where does all of this leave Jakub Kindl? In exactly the same spot as last season. It appears that Kindl will reprise his role as the team’s seventh defenseman, and will see only limited ice time during the upcoming season.
Not to single out Mike Commodore (because he will add size, physicality, and experience to the blueline), but it’s his signing that will be preventing Kindl from a promotion, and that situation does have a downside.
For starters, Kindl is 24 years old, and will be turning 25 in the middle of the season. He’s still yet to enter his prime, but these are critical development years that he is partially missing out on. It’s fair to say that given his noticeable improvement as the season went on, that Kindl would have been fine this past season in a full time role with the team.
That statement is even more true now, but rather than getting a full season under his belt, he’ll be sitting on the bench for half of the season, or more. Kindl has the potential to be a top four defenseman in his prime, but he needs time to build up to that.
Last season could have served as learning experience (granted it still was during his 48 games, but it wasn’t equivalent to a full season). This season could be even more helpful than last, given that he would have a more important role in the wake of the Rafalski retirement.
However, all is not lost with Kindl, because more than likely he will finally get his full year after this upcoming season; but as was previously stated, he is missing out on what could total at least one full season over two years by sitting healthily on the bench.
Patience is a virtue that all Red Wings prospects must have, as Detroit usually likes to let their players over-ripen, ensuring that they are more than ready to play in the NHL. With all that said, Ken Holland and company cannot let Kindl sit for much longer. He is young, capable, and ready for the next step.
The Wings have already lost out on one young top four defenseman (albeit through different circumstances, but it rings true nonetheless), when they had to place Kyle Quincey on waivers in 2008, so they cannot let Kindl’s talent go to waste.
Lastly, it should be noted that Commodore’s signing was not a bad thing, it just has an unfortunate side effect. It will be beneficial to have experience and grit on the third pairing, and experience is at a premium this year, while the team transitions from Rafalski’s retirement.
Kindl will still get some experience, and he will be champing at the bit when he does get the full time job he has rightfully earned.