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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Devils 4 Islanders 3 … preseason (10.01.10)

Last night at Prudential Center the New Jersey Devils raced out to a 4-1 lead over the New York Islanders and held on for a 4-3 win in front of an announced crowd of 13,596. Jason Arnott and Zach Parise had a goal and an assist each for the Devils, while Travis Zajac had two assists. For New York, Matt Moulson had a strong game with two goals and captain Doug Weight looked like his old self (after off-season shoulder surgery) with two assists.

Both goalies played the entire game: Martin Brodeur made 23 saves and Dwayne Roloson made 24; Jesse Joensuu also scored for the Isles and Patrik Elias and Brian Rolston chipped in goals for New Jersey. The same two teams play again tonight at the Nassau Coliseum, finishing out the preseason schedule. The Devils open the season on October 8, hosting the Dallas Stars and the Islanders open their season on October 9, also hosting Dallas. I will post some postgame quotes from Arnott, Brodeur & Zajac later today or tomorrow.

Here are the line combos/d-pairings that started the game for both squads:

New Jersey:
Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk
Elias-Arnott-Tedenby
Rolston-Josefson-Langenbrunner
Mair-Pelley-Palmieri

Greene-Corrente
Tallinder-Urbom
White-Taormina

New York:
Joensuu-Weight-Kolanos
Moulson-Nielsen-Niederreiter
Bailey-Schremp-Rakhshani
Gillies-McAmmond-Ortmeyer

MacDonald-Hamonic
Hillen-Gervais
Jurcina-de Haan

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!!!!

Devils-Isles Postgame Quotes [11.06.09]

Here is some of the postgame quotes after Friday’s 2–1 Devils win vs. the Islanders:

Dainius Zubrus:

Thoughts on the game…

“Pretty good, the power play clicked again. We had more chances, and early in the game too. Our start was not the greatest again, but other than that I thought we played pretty well.”

Two wins in a row at home after a 1-4 start, what’s different?

“It was in our heads more than anything else; I think its more how we played at home. People keep asking the same question (about the record at home), but we just have to play better. The last two games I thought we did. On the road, I don’t want to say we play simple but, we don’t do too many fancy things and everybody’s going. I think we did the same thing the last couple of games – where everybody’s involved and everybody’s moving. With a lot of guys out, it’s not easy, especially on the blue line; but the guys are moving well and making good plays.”

With the injuries and coach’s decision to jumble the line combinations so often, is it easier or harder to adjust to new linemates constantly?

“Honestly, I don’t think I have to change my game that much. We have some young faces here too so, for myself, I have to stay back (defensively) at times, but other than that not really. You play with good players and try to create (offense) but you have to be smart at all times as well. Its 15 games in and I think Jacques is doing a great job keeping everybody in the game and keeping the lines moving and keeping guys involved. Especially now the way the schedule is, we have a lot of three games in four nights; hopefully we keep winning.”

How do you stay unbeaten on the road tomorrow in Ottawa?

“The same thing (we’ve been doing). We won here now we have to go on the road, and have a better start. But nothing changes; we just want to play the same way. Guys are missing, but other guys are stepping up getting more minutes, but they’re playing well. Obviously on the road we don’t have to change much.”

Patrik Elias:

How did you feel out there tonight?

“Not too bad. It was an up-and-down game for me, physically. I felt all the things that I expected for my first game in five months.”

Any chance you play tomorrow night?

“We’ll make the decision tomorrow morning.”

Yann Danis:

Do you think the team feels they can rely on you now that you have two starts and only allowed two goals?

“I hope so, that’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve said all along that whenever I get a chance to play, I want to make sure that I play well. I want the guys to feel confident with whoever is in net. But a big part of that is the guys played real well in front of me in both games and made my job a lot easier.”

Are you surprised the Islanders didn’t try to distract you more, with talk or whatever?

“I don’t think they’re that type of guys. Like I said, I heard my name here and there, but nothing mean. I don’t think they’re that type of team (that would trash talk to me).”

Does it feel good to beat you’re former team?

“Yeah, obviously it adds a little something. Obviously I want to win against whoever I play, but to beat your former team, it makes it a little special.”

What did you see, or not see, during the scramble around you at the end of the game?

“I had no idea the puck was behind me like that on the goal line; I thought I still had it against the post. I had no idea how close it came (to going in), I saw it on the replay afterwards (on the jumbotron). Good play by our D there (to sweep the puck away), I don’t know who it was, but it was a good play.”

Jacques Lemaire:

Yann Danis tonight…

“He’s steady. If you look at him, it’s easy to believe in him. He’s always well positioned, there’s a lot of pucks that hit him; that’s why it’s easy to believe in him.”

Nice to see Cory Murphy come through with a goal…

“Yeah, that was nice. He didn’t play a lot in the first (period), but after that we used him a little more and it was nice – that shot on the power play.”

You’ve won two straight at home and three of the last four, are the home woes over?

“Hopefully; we got two at home, but I’d still like to see more goals here – that’s what I’m looking for now. We don’t give a lot, which is good, now we have to get some more goals. I’d love to get four goals, get a game that’s not a one-goal game.”

Why’d you change the lines again after the first period?

“Nothing was going. Nothing was going well.”

Was it nice to see Brian Rolston score again?

“Yeah, Rollie played well; he was probably our best forward. He played really well tonight – not only his goal but he won battles and he won a lot of pucks; he made some plays. He played against the top line on the other side. He was good.”

Doug Weight:

Close game, but you came up short…

“Yeah, special teams, we won four in a row and we were kicking it in gear – in all aspects of the game; the last couple of losses, specialty teams could have sure made a difference for us. The power plays, we had a 5-on-3 early, we had three or four (in the game) and we didn’t bury our chances. It’s a tough building to play in, a good team, when they have the lead they clamp down. But it was a good game, we had good opportunities, ultimately we fell short and we’re disappointed.”

Your former teammate played pretty good tonight…

“He did. Yann’s a good guy. I’m sure he was pumped – anytime you play your old team; we knew we were going to get a strong game from him. We had to get some pucks in the net and he answered the bell.”

He mentioned hearing his name on the ice tonight, your response?

“I just said ‘hey’ to him in warm-ups…he was staring at us and I asked him if he was trying to intimidate us. Yann’s a good kid and when the game starts you bear down and you try to win the game.”

Frans Nielsen:
Talk about your goal…

(Sean) Bergenheim and (Jon) Sim got the loose puck off the wall and I was open in front. Bergenheim’s pass went through the legs of the d-man, and then I think my shot went through Danis’ arm.”

You missed some time at the start of the season, how do you feel?

“Good, the last five or six games have been good. I can’t complain.”

Your thoughts on Yann Danis’ game tonight?

“He played great. I think he saw the puck most of the time though; we didn’t get in there and create much traffic in front of him. He was solid.”