On May 25, in an abrupt and surprising decision, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski called it a career, retiring after 11 seasons in the NHL.
The announcement came without warning as the jaws of the collective hockey world dropped in disbelief. Rafalski, 37, walked away from one year on his contract at $6 million. He was playing a solid 20 minutes per game on a good, competitive team and that play had not dropped off as he finished the year with 44 assists and a plus-11 rating.
The Red Wings, who planned for the defenseman to finish his contract, are now left with a gaping hole on their blue line and little time to fill it — a consequence of early retirement that most teams will never face.
However, if general manager Paul Holmgren and the Flyers aren’t paying attention and didn’t see Rafalski’s sudden retirement as a wake-up call to take a look at their own defensive situation, the same could happen to them with 36-year-old Kimmo Timonen.