Yesterday the Detroit Red Wings fanbase was shaken to it’s core when the ECHL’s Florida Everblades announced that they had signed former Red Wing Brian Rafalski to play with the team. Not to be the front office, not to coach, to play. Twitter proceeded to explode with questions about Ken Holland, why a team like Detroit wouldn’t turn to the retired Dearborn native, and general freaking out.
Let’s look at all the reasons why this is no reason to freak out.
Brian Rafalski is 40.
This I’ll admit I didn’t know until an article mentioned it. I thought he was much younger. Red Wings fans will no doubt remember Rafalski from the 2008 stanley cup win, as well as being the guy that played across from Nicklas Lidstrom for a number of years. Lidstrom played at 40, and played superbly. As did Gordie Howe (I couldn’t tell you if he was any good at the time). Chelios played at 40 as well, and is still considering playing in Europe with his sons when they’re of age. However, towards the end of his career Chelios was playing with the Atlanta Thrasher’s AHL affiliate. He didn’t have the same game he had in his younger years with the Red Wings. Bottom line- hockey players don’t age well. So saying Rafalski would play better than Kyle Quincey or Brendan Smith and could just step into the Red Wings line up is a bit short-sighted.
Part of Rafalski’s retirement involved a nagging knee injury.
I was fortunate enough to make it to the Alumni Showdown the day before the Winter Classic. I got to see Steve Yzerman (among many others) play, but he wasn’t the same Steve Yzerman I had watched all through high school. He didn’t have the same speed I had expected and spent more time passing than taking shots. It was obvious that he had aged. Then it occurred to me: Yzerman has had a ton of knee surgeries!
I don’t know if Rafalski and Yzerman’s knee injuries are identical, but if a knee injury can be a cause for you to retire, I sincerely doubt they just go away or heal themselves with time away from the ice. Whatever Rafalski’s workout regiment was after retiring or leading up to the alumni game, it isn’t the same as playing at a NHL level. Thats why he’s in the ECHL. He’ll test it out and see if he can still play at anything remotely resembling a NHL level, not unlike…
Darren McCarty’s comeback kinda resembled something like this.
Noted pugilist and grinder through the 90s and 2000s Darren McCarty had a point in his career where he had to step away from hockey. He was deep in the depths of alcoholism, his family life was a wreck, and he was bankrupt. Stepping away from hockey gave him the chance to get his personal life together, but when it came time to make a comeback, he didn’t step right back to the NHL. This is because with the level of competition and endurance required of the NHL, one can’t step away from it and expect to slide back into it. Most importantly, the front office of a NHL team wouldn’t expect someone to slide back into it, the player has to prove it.
That’s exactly what McCarty did. From the very beginning, McCarty only wanted to play with Detroit (who could blame him?) so he started with the Flint Generals of the United Hockey League (“who?” exactly). He did well there and eventually journeyed to Grand Rapids to play with the Griffins in the AHL. (“who?” shut up.) It wasn’t until after he proved himself on those levels that he was given a shot in the NHL. And that resulted in a Stanley Cup that year, so it worked.
Rafalski will likely try to do something similar. He retired with a year left on his contract so his NHL return is a little tricky. This would make him property of the Red Wings for at least three years, according to Ansar Khan from Mlive.com, but Ken Holland and the Wings granted his request to be released from that obligation, and they granted it mostly because they aren’t jerks. Which brings up another misconception…
Rafalski playing in Florida isn’t a snub to Michigan.
Some people on Twitter, and possibly some of you, interpreted signing with an ECHL team in Florida, rather than the Toledo Walleye who use Detroit prospects. If you thought this was a snub, you’d of course be wrong.
The mid-west is in the middle of a cold snap, and you’re presented with the prospect of working in Toledo, Ohio, or FLORIDA. Should you have decided Ohio was the place to go, under any circumstances, you’re probably insane. This is to say nothing, of course that Rafalski has been living in Fort Myers, Florida for a good few years now, and after spending so much time away from his family in his NHL career, probably wouldn’t mind staying close to them. Of course, being retired, Rafalski’s relocation to Florida was probably a federal mandated, as 90% of the retired population is required to live in Florida. I’m pretty sure that’s what the law says.
Additionally, Sean Leahy of Puck Daddy pointed out that Rafalski has been involved with the Everblades as a youth coach . How cool would that be to have your kid coached by him? Craig Handel of the News-Press also noted that he’s functioned as the team’s chaplin as well.
Rafalski is scheduled to make his debut tonight against the South Carolina Stingray. It would be nice of him to do well and maybe play another year or two but only if he can handle it. Khan did mention that if Rafalski progresses to the AHL and continues to attempt a NHL comeback beyond the ECHL, the Red Wings would be interested in speaking to him, so anything can happen. The Everblades’ coach may have put it best in his interview with the Detroit Free Press:
“He played in the Winter Classic alumni game and got the bug,” Everblades coach Greg Poss said. “He wants to play in the NHL again.”