Brian Rafalski of the Detroit Red Wings Expected to Retire, but Why?

Matt HutterAnalyst IMay 23, 2011

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 29:  Brian Rafalski #28 of the Detroit Red Wings in action against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on April 29, 2011 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Various sources including and are reporting that Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski will announce his retirement from the NHL as early as this Wednesday.

The news comes less than two weeks after the Red Wings were eliminated for the second-straight year in the Western Conference Quarterfinals by the San Jose Sharks.

The question everyone will be asking now is why, and why now?

Rafalski entered the NHL at the relatively late age of 27.

After spending several seasons playing in Finland and Sweden, Rafalski was brought into the NHL as an undrafted free-agent by the New Jersey Devils in 1999.

Just one year later, Rafalski won his first of two Stanley Cups with the franchise, the second coming in 2003.

Rafalski's smooth skating style and strong positional play, which he honed overseas, provided the Devils with one of the best bluelines in recent memory. Legendary defenders Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer were already at the core of the Devils franchise upon Rafalski's arrival.

In the summer of 2007, the Red Wings signed Rafalski to a five-year, $30 million contract.

The following June, Rafalski won his third Stanley Cup as the Red Wings defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

Since that amazingly successful debut in Detroit, Rafalski's health began to decline over the next three seasons.

Back and knee injuries have lead to a decline in the games played by Rafalski and his point totals. He has also been noticeably hobbled since suffering yet another knee injury last November and posted an underwhelming three points and -1 rating in 11 games played this postseason.

Considering his age, 37, fantastic success and mounting injury history, Rafalski's impending announcement may be unexpected but should not be all that surprising.

He's achieved more in 10 seasons than some veterans do in twice that time, and his inability to utilize his body effectively appears to have limited both his effectiveness and willingness to continue his NHL career.

Rafalski's salary, $6 million, will not count against the cap next season.

When combined with Nicklas Lidstrom's possible retirement, the Red Wings will have over $12 million to spend on their replacements.

While the Red Wings and fans alike suspect that Lidstrom will return, mitigating Rafalski's absence, replacing the latter will prove to be a tough task.

Still, Rafalski made his 10 years in the NHL count in a way few players have, and his leadership, talent and will to win will be far more difficult to the replace than his actual position.

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