Rafalski and Weight Call it a Career

The NHL lost two veterans to retirement this week, Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski (11 seasons) and New York Islanders center Doug Weight (19 seasons). Both American players had stellar careers, highlighted by winning every hockey player’s dream — the Stanley Cup.

Rafalski joined the New Jersey Devils in 1999-2000 as an undrafted free agent from the University of Wisconsin, whom the team’s scouts found playing over in Europe (for four years!). Perhaps his size (5’10”, 195 lbs.) was the reason he was overlooked by the other 29 NHL clubs, but he seamlessly fit in on the Devils’ blue line and partnered with legend Scott Stevens immediately and never looked back. As a 25-year-old rookie he helped guide New Jersey to a championship in 2000 and a return to the Finals in 2001. He was a major part of the Devils 2003 Cup win as well and also won silver medals with Team USA at the Olympics in 2002 and 2010. In 2007 he signed with the Red Wings as a free agent to be closer to his hometown of Dearborn, Michigan and the move paid off for both parties — Rafalski and Detroit hoisted the Cup in 2008 and made in back to the Finals in 2009. This past season he spent a lot of time playing hurt and missed a handful of games, which can be eye-opening for some athletes that the time has come to hang up the skates. “There wasn’t a day this year that I wasn’t on the training table,” he said at his retirement press conference, “That gets tiring.” He retired with one year ($6 million) left on his contract, citing that family is most important now, “What I’ll be doing first and foremost is serving my family; I’ll be definitely looking to help others. I don’t know what that’s going to entail yet, but that will be my focus.”

Rafalski’s career totals: (regular season) 79 goals, 438 assists, 515 points, plus-178, 833 games/(playoffs) 29 goals, 71 assists, 100 points, plus-42, 165 games/(olympics) 13 points in 17 games

Weight had a much different path to the NHL, he was drafted 34th overall by the New York Rangers in the 1990 NHL Draft out of Lake Superior State University and made his NHL debut in a 1990 playoff game with the Blueshirts. He played parts of two seasons with the Rangers before being traded to Edmonton in a deal that helped New York secure the 1994 Stanley Cup. A scoring dynamo with the Oilers, he was part of one of the most dynamic lines in hockey with Bill Guerin and Ryan Smyth; Weight never reached the Finals in Edmonton and was sent to St. Louis in another blockbuster deal prior to the 2001-02 season.  After two and a half seasons with the Blues he was traded to Carolina in 2006 and finally lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup after the Hurricanes’ amazing playoff run, topping the Edmonton Oilers in a thrilling seven-game series. The following summer he re-signed with the Blues and played another 111 games before being shipped to Anaheim at the trade deadline. Prior to the 2008-09 season he signed with the Islanders, a place he and his family now call home. He provided leadership and guidance for the young Isles and was almost like a father-figure for their players; he even had John Tavares live with his family during Tavares’ rookie season. A severe back injury limited his time to only 18 games this past season, but at the end of the season he resurfaced  behind the Isles’ bench as an assistant coach, a preview of things to come. In announcing his retirement on May 26, it was also announced that he is now an assistant coach and special assistant ‘to’ GM Garth Snow (sounds very much like Dwight Schrute’s job!).

Weight’s career totals: (regular season) 278 goals, 755 assists, 1,033  points, 80 power play goals, minus-58, 1,238 games/(playoffs) 23 goals, 49 assists, 72 points, minus-13, 97 games/(olympics) 8 points in 16 games

Are they both Hall-of-Famers? Is just one of them destined for the Hall or will neither make it? Hard to say, but I think Weight could make it. They both will surely make the USA Hockey Hall of Fame. I’d just like to add that I had the privilege of interviewing both players during their careers and they were both class acts who made my job fun and a lot easier.

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Waiting For Kovalchuk…

A lot has happened since Ilya Kovalchuk (642 points in 621 NHL games) became the most talented free-agent in NHL history to hit the open market on July 1, but here we sit on July 18 and the Russian sniper (338 career goals) still hasn’t found a new home. New Jersey, which acquired him in a trade last season is still in the mix, and so are the in, out, in, out, in the Kovy-sweepstakes LA Kings. A third option could be the Russian KHL League, but a talented player in his prime like Kovalchuk needs to play in the league with the most talent and best competition — the NHL.

There are still very valuable players on the market besides Kovalchuk and it seems that the are all waiting for him to sign, before they decide where to go or maybe the other GMs are waiting to see where he lands — making for a very boring two weeks in July devoid of any substantial hockey news.  So, here’s what I am thinking about as we wait for Kovalchuk’s ‘decision’ to be made:

-The NY Islanders have made some solid, off the radar moves to shore up their blue line (Mark Eaton & Milan Jurcina), but more work needs to be done if they are to contend for a playoff spot out of the ultra-competitive Atlantic Division. They should look to sign Alexei Ponikarovsky to play in the top-six and bring back two former Islanders to add more grit to their game — Andy Sutton & Raffi Torres. Sutton has said he would welcome a return to the Island and Torres would be a perfect fit on the third line alongside either Frans Nielsen or Doug Weight.

-What in the freaking world is going on in Calgary?!? They signed two ex-Flames, who both had less than stellar tenures the first time around. Alex Tanguay is a shell of the player he was in 2001 with Colorado and Olli Jokinen was traded away for Ales Kotalik and his ridiculous contract and then they re-sign Jokinen who never looked comfortable in Calgary alongside Jarome Iginla. A few days later ex-Tampa GM Jay Feaster as assistant to the GM who will be probably soon be fired in Darryl Sutter.

-There are still two solid goalies available — one via free agency (Marty Turco) and one via trade (Tim Thomas). It’s not every day you have these types of quality goalies available, so stop being cheap and give your team a decent chance to succeed next year (this means you Columbus, Toronto, Atlanta, Florida, Tampa, Montreal, Minnesota, LA, San Jose, Dallas).

-There are two enigmatic, but talented wingers available in Max Afinogenov and Alex Frolov and i haven’t heard peep about either yet. It’s possible that one of these two could wind up in the KHL, but in the right situation they can still be solid NHLers.

-Two talented centers are available for trade, but both have almost unmovable  contracts — Boston’s Marc Savard and Ottawa’s Jason Spezza. Hey, maybe they should just be traded for each other?

-It seemed odd to me that: Pittsburgh signed defenseman Paul Martin from New Jersey, New Jersey signed Anton Volchenkov from Ottawa and Ottawa signed Sergei Gonchar from Pittsburgh. This is just my opinion but, a three-way trade during the season would have been soooooo much cooler!

-If the Devils don’t sign Kovalchuk, they should take a hard look at Miroslav Satan, and not just because of the name. Miro proved in the playoffs that he can still produce and help a winning team go deep into the spring.

-Four solid long-time NHL vets are still on the market. Would Mike Modano, Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne & Bill Guerin have lasted this long on the open market ten summers ago in 2000? I think not. Modano may go to Detroit, which makes sense in a lot of ways. What if Kariya and Selanne sign one-year deals in Pittsburgh like they did in Colorado? Apparently Sidney Crosby felt he didn’t need Guerin’s leadership, so maybe Guerin could ride shotgun with AO in DC?

-Finally where in the world is Petr Sykora? The rest of your buddies from 2000 are in NJ…..A-LINE, ASSEMBLE!!!!