Entering the offseason much earlier than they would have liked to, most Red Wings fans had one wish for the summer, that wish was something along the lines of “Please hockey gods, don’t let Lidstrom retire.” Then there was a headline that I don’t think very many people saw coming as Brian Rafalski decided to call it a career.
With an unexpected surplus of cash and a prominent hole to fill on defense I think it’s safe to say there were high expectations of Ken Holland and suddenly the Red Wings fan base was rumbling with rumours of Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and Zach Bogosian. That didn’t happen, at least not this season. What the Wings got instead was a steady defender in Ian White (10-11 Cal, Car, SJ – 74GP, 4G, 22A, 26P) and a hopefully resurgent Mike Commodore (10-11 CBJ – 20GP, 2G, 4A, 6P & AHL Spr 11GP, 0G, 2A, 2P).
Admittedly anyone who had their heart set on somehow landing a Shea Weber or a Drew Doughty this season to fill the void left by Rafalski would feel a bit of disappointment in ending up with Ian White and Mike Commodore. That feeling may seem justified, but when you sit back and ignore the pipedream of immediately picking up a franchise player to plug the hole then take a look at who was available on the UFA market and the money that was thrown around at certain players you kind of have to hand it to Holland for making the best out of what was available to him.
Ian White knows, probably better than anybody, what it is like to bounce around in a season having played for three different teams (Calgary, Carolina and San Jose) at one point or another last season. No doubt he is looking for stability and when it comes right down to it he may have found the perfect opportunity to get himself some stability in Detroit. Personally, I expect Ian White to have a career year playing alongside the likes of Lidstrom, Kronwall and Stuart.
Mike Commodore presents much more of an “x factor” as far as expectations go. If you draw up the Red Wings’ defensive lines as-is it’s a little bit difficult to imagine a scenario where “Commie” finds himself on the opening day line-up. I fully expect to see a resurgent and energized Commodore throughout the preseason and I can really see him pushing for the 6th spot, but it won’t be easy. Even if Commodore only plays 20 games this season I would be more than okay with his biggest contribution to the Wings being helping Ericsson improve his physical game.
Barring some unforeseen preseason trade the Wings’ defense looks pretty set heading into the 2011/2012 season, so the big question of who replaces Rafalski remains. I think it’s a bit of a leap to assume Ian White is going to roll through the season and pile up 50+ points but the Wings “D” is far from doomed. With Lidstrom leading the way for (at least) one more season I expect to see career years for White and Kronwall as well as a big step up in play from Ericsson, hopefully earning some of that big contract. It will really all come down to a big defensive team effort to fill a void as big as the one Rafalski leaves behind, but I strongly believe the Wings have the right players to pull it off.