Ruslan Salei again playing for Babcock
DETROIT -- During the summer of 2002, Anaheim defenseman Ruslan Salei was at home in Belarus when the phone rang one day. Lo and behold, it was his new coach, Mike Babcock.
Salei admitted to being shocked at the call.
"I thought it was a great thing to do," Salei told ESPN.com Friday. "He was one of those coaches that actually talked to the players during the summer and that shows his understanding, his respect to the players, and I think it's a great thing to do because not many coaches do that."
Fast forward to this summer. Babcock again reached out to the veteran defenseman. This time it was to find out if Salei was interested in joining the Red Wings.
While the addition of Mike Modano and the return of Jiri Hudler have garnered the most attention in Hockeytown this offseason, the Salei signing (he signed a one-year deal worth $1.1 million including bonuses) reinforces an already imposing Detroit back end.
Critics will suggest the Wings' blue line is too aged to go the distance (Nicklas Lidstrom is 40, Brian Rafalski is about to turn 37 and Salei is set to turn 36 in early November). But Babcock is hoping he won't need to tax his top-end defenders like Lidstrom and Rafalski before the playoffs if his blue line can stay healthy and with the top six basically sharing out the minutes more or less equally.
"That's a great plan. We'll see how it works out," Babcock joked.
The coach had high praise for Salei and his ability to fit seamlessly into the Red Wings' locker room. Look for Salei, who played in only 14 regular-season games and one playoff game last season because of a back injury, to work closely with Jonathan Ericsson, the young Swedish defenseman who struggled at times last season.
In the short time Salei has been with the team, he said he hasn't noticed much of a change in Babcock's demeanor since their days with the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. But it's clear Babcock was a key factor in Salei making the move to Detroit after spending the past two seasons in Colorado.
"We have pretty good understanding with each other. I wouldn't say that it's always been smooth between us," said Salei, who was captain of the Belarus squad at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. "We had some rough patches down the road with Anaheim, especially the first year when we were trying to get to know each other, I guess.
"We had some good times and some not-so-good times. That's how you get to know each other, having some kind of player/coach relationship," he said.
Although he will be living apart from his family -- his wife and two small children moved back into their California home in the offseason and will be visiting back and forth during the season -- Salei said he's thrilled at this new opportunity.
"I'm really excited to be part of this room and I try to do whatever I can and whatever possible to fit in and be successful with this team," he said.