Rafalski's departure not only left a gaping hole in Detroit's roster, but it also freed up about $5 million in cap space under the NHL's hard salary cap. Surely the free-spending Red Wings -- a team that prior to the salary cap was thought of as hockey's New York Yankees -- would spend big on July 1, the first day of free agency.
It didn't happen, though. Instead, July 1 came and went without Red Wings general manager Ken Holland making any real noise. He didn't go after any of the bigger-named unrestricted free-agent defensemen and hadn't pulled off any trades for high-priced stars or restricted free agents.
What he did do on July 2 was sign 27-year old two-way defenseman Ian White away from the San Jose Sharks -- the team that ended Detroit's season in the seventh game of a classic Western Conference semifinal series last spring.
Several months later, both White and the Wings are happy it worked out the way it did. White is off to a great start (2 goals, 1 assist) paired alongside legendary Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom heading into Friday night's game at Joe Louis Arena against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m. ET).
Defense - DET
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 3
SOG: 11 | +/-: 4
SOG: 11 | +/-: 4
That last part was a big reason White landed in Detroit after playing last season for the Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes and Sharks. He was a good fit for several reasons, including his right-hand shot, tenacity in the defensive zone and familiarity with Babcock's system after playing for Todd McLellan -- a former Red Wings assistant -- in his stint with San Jose.
It was also a great fit from White's perspective, despite reports that he initially wanted to return to the Sharks. After San Jose made a pair of splashy trades with the Minnesota Wild -- including one on the first day of the 2011 Entry Draft to acquire star defenseman Brent Burns -- it became clear White was likely headed elsewhere.
That destination became the Motor City, and White couldn't be much happier about it.
"You weigh a few options (as a free agent), but in the end, this team is one of the best," White said. "I just jumped at the opportunity to be a part of it."
Holland felt the same way, and later added veteran Mike Commodore as a free agent after giving 27-year old Jonathan Ericsson a contract extension just before free agency opened. As it's turned out, those moves are looking good early in the 2011-12 season. Even better, the Red Wings still have a nice chunk of cap space to use for either a trade or next summer's free agency period.
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"These (Original Six) organizations go back many years and there's so much history," said White, who was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sixth round of the 2002 draft (No. 191) and played five seasons there. "It's great to be a part of it (again). Any time you get a chance to play against (the Red Wings), you get to see how good they are … and now getting an opportunity to be a part of it is something special."
It was also a little odd when White walked into the Wings' locker room for the first time and saw familiar faces that he'd helped give an early summer vacation to just a few months before.
"It's funny how the business works sometimes," White said. "Sworn enemies last year and now you get a chance to be with the good guys this time. It was a pretty clean (series) for me, though. I didn't get too chippy with anyone. It's been a real smooth transition."
White's right-hand shot goes well with Lidstrom's lefty shot, especially when passing along the blue line. The linemates are currently the two points on Detroit's top power-play unit. White's two-way abilities have not gone unnoticed by the 41-year-old reigning Norris Trophy winner.
"We saw what he could do last year, especially when he was with the Sharks in the playoffs," Lidstrom said. "He's a guy who can move the puck on the power play, he's aggressive in his own zone … but he can also jump up into the play and be an offensive threat. It takes some time to get to know one another, but it's been a smooth transition for both of us."