Sunday, July 1, 2007

Detroit Red Wings Lose Mathieu Schneider; Sign All Star Brian Rafalski

Update: Literally, no sooner than I posted my note on the loss of Mathieu Schneider below, TSN is reporting the Red Wings have signed Brian Rafalski to a 5-year, $30 million contract to replace Schneider. Rafalski, a Michigan native, is one of the top defensmen available, so even though the Wings may have lost Schneider, they have replaced him with a younger, very productive player. Rafalski, a three-time All Star, had a career high 55 points last season, and is only 33 years old. As I said in my original post (below), Rafalski was a top option to replace Schneider.

Even though he's young and productive, though, I still believe the Wings, in the end, will miss Schneider. And the fact that Rafalski got more money ($6 million a season) than Schneider (who will average just over $5.5 million in his two seasons in Anaheim) may show that money was not an issue between the Wings and Schneider, or that the Wings did not want to tie up $6 million in a 38-year-old defenseman (but if that's the case, that's silly, because Schneider is no ordinary 38-year-old and would be worth every penny of the $6 million the Wings would pay him).

Personally, I'd rather had have the Wings hang on to Schneider, but I'm very happy with the addition of Rafalski. In any case, it shows that Wings GM Ken Holland is not sitting on his hands, and that he is acting fast to make sure the Wings remain competitive in the Western Conference. And with that, back to your regularly scheduled post on the signing of Mathieu Schneider by the Anaheim Ducks...

After losing to the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Finals last season, the Detroit Red Wings suffered perhaps an ever bigger loss to the Ducks on the first day of NHL free agency: Top defenseman Mathieu Schneider has left the Wings for an $11.25 million deal from the defending Stanley Cup Champion Ducks.

Losing Schneider is a huge blow to the Wings, and even if they are able to sign a serviceable replacement, like New Jersey Devil and Michigan native Brian Rafalski, the loss of Schneider is going to be felt for a long time to come. All Wings fans need to do is look back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the Wings were just not the same team after Schneider broke his wrist against San Jose in the Western Conference semi-finals. One of the biggest reasons the Wings were not able to defeat the Ducks in 2007 was because Schneider was on the sidelines. Now that the Ducks will have him on their team, it makes them even more formidable in the Western Conference, and it puts the Wings in a very precarious position on the blue line.

While Chris Chelios continues to be a marvel of a player at age 45, he can't keep going forever, and a drop-off in his play would not be stunning. Then there's Nikalis Kronwall, who despite being the Wings next best hope on defense, has not yet lived up to the high expectations placed upon him because of one freak injury after another in his career. With Schneider gone, the pressure on Kronwall, not just to stay healthy, but to up his play to the next level, will be even greater.

It just goes to show you how different the NHL is today in the era of the salary cap. The Red Wings would have never let Schneider slip away under the old system, but today, with General Manager Ken Holland having to think not just about his current cap situation, but what the future may hold (such as making sure there is enough cap space available to re-sign Henrik Zetterberg next season), they just lost one of their most dependable defensemen.

Ken Holland certainly has acted creatively in the past to make up for player defections, and I'm sure this time will be no different. But no matter what Holland is able to do, whether it be signing a player like Rafalski, re-signing Danny Markov and using those precious salary cap dollars on other players, or something not yet thought of, the Red Wings are not easily going to get over the loss of Mathieu Schneider. This is one that is going to sting for a while.

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