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Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Brian Rafalski retires ... is Lidstrom next?

By Pierre LeBrun


Filling the hole left by Brian Rafalski's retirement announcement Wednesday will be big enough. Now, depending on Nicklas Lidstrom's decision, the Detroit Red Wings are hoping they won't have a chasm to fill.

"He's going to let me know before the draft," Red Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I think he wants to make sure that he feels comfortable about whatever decision he makes. Obviously, we're hoping he wants to come back. We're sitting here with our fingers crossed hoping he does come back."

Most people in and around the Wings believe Lidstrom will return, but it will be interesting to see how the 41-year-old future Hall of Fame defenseman views losing his longtime defensive partner, Rafalski. Does Lidstrom see it as a step backward for the organization, or does he trust one of the game's great GMs in Holland to fill that hole and keep the Wings' powerhouse intact?

While the hockey world awaits Lidstrom's decision, the Red Wings must deal with the loss of Rafalski. The 37-year-old Rafalski walks away from another year left on his deal at $6 million.

"It took me totally by surprise," Holland said. "He had 48 points in 63 games this year and was a plus-11. When you factor in how productive he was and had another year at $6 million, I was very surprised by his decision."

Brian Rafalski
Brian Rafalski had 79 goals and 515 points in 833 games over 11 seasons with New Jersey and Detroit.

Yes, there are major cap savings, but the Wings are losing a quality puck-mover in Rafalski.

"He was a tremendous signing for us," Holland said. "He was major factor in us winning the Cup in 2008. He played 11 years in the National Hockey League and made the Cup finals five times. He's been a real important player on good teams. He's a big loss."

On the positive side, Holland now has money to play with on July 1, which he hasn't had in a few years.

"We have lots of cap space," he said. "We've got some decisions to make. Obviously, July 1 is a big day for us now. We're going to explore the market. ... At the draft, we'll also look to see if teams are looking to move defensemen, but usually teams aren't looking to do that."

Internally, youngsters such as Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith are on the rise, but Holland will be aggressive in trying to add blue-line help this summer.

The Wings are pretty much set in terms of their impact forwards, and goalie Jimmy Howard was extended during the season. It's on defense where changes will come.

Depending on Lidstrom, it could be a massive overhaul, but the Wings are sure hoping it doesn't come to that.