Brian Rafalski has confirmed the rumors and said he will retire with a year remaining in his contract. Detroit is still waiting for the return of their captain, Nicklas Lidstrom. For now, Detroit is down a man but now has $6 million extra in cap space.
With a major hole to fill in defense, Jonathan Ericsson maybe able to stay with the Wings. For now, Detroit has Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and Jakub Kindl. If Lidstrom returns, the Wings may be able to recover by picking up a defenseman from free agency; however, Rafalski was a key player on the blue line.
Over the years Rafalski had many injuries, which may have impacted his decision to retire. He had back surgery last year and missed games this year due to back spasms. Even with missing as many games as he did he was able to rack up 48 points. He knew how to set up plays and his presence will be missed.
Rafalski will not only be missed in Detroit, but his presence on the international level will be missed as well. He helped restore American hockey by helping Team USA win two sliver medals in the Winter Olympics.
He helped New Jersey win two Stanley Cups and Detroit win one.
As the Wings struggle to find a replacement, there are some defenseman who could fill in. One big name that has been thrown around is Ed Jovanovski. He is a big hitter and can play. He knows how to score and stop shots. For the past two years, his Stanley Cup dreams have been stopped by Detroit, so why not join them instead of facing them? He maybe 35 years old, but having a veteran player is what the Wings need.
There are many other big names coming to free agency, including Bryan McCabe and Roman Hamrlik, but the most potential defenseman is Joni Pitkanen. He is young and can easily get 30 to 40 points a season.
If Detroit is looking for some experience they have options but a major sign (if Vancouver wins the Cup) is Sami Salo. He has experience and his two-way style of play can be deadly. He has a slap shot that finds its way in the back of the net and can easily stop power forwards from scoring.
There is one thing that Salo can do to help Detroit if he is signed: power play and penalty kill.
He has experience and the Wings' weakness was special teams. Salo can help fix that.
Another big name that would help Detroit (if Boston does not re-sign him) is Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle was one of Toronto's key denfenseman and was traded for a first-round draft pick and a conditional second-round draft along with Joe Colborne. Boston gave up a lot for Kaberle but Detroit has lucked out before by trading for Todd Bertuzzi in the 2006-07 season from Florida.
If Detroit is looking for a cheap gamble, Eric Brewer maybe the key. In recent years his numbers have been lacking. However, he knows how to play. He was captain of St. Louis and is currently on Tampa Bay. In the 22 games he has played for Tampa he has only racked up two points; however, Detroit seems to give players whose careers are over a second chance. Sometimes it pays off (Chris Osgood 2008-09) and sometimes it does not (Brad May 2009-10).
If Detroit does take a gamble with Brewer, they maybe able to sign him cheap and pick up a forward who can help Detroit offensively.
Either way if Detroit is currently without a key defenseman. Rafalski will be missed no matter what the Wings do.