– A few hours after clearing waivers on the first day of the NHL’s free agency period, the last thing Mike Commodore expected was a call from Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.
“I’m in the process of going from Kelowna to San Diego where I go every summer to train for awhile,” Commodore said, “and I wasn’t expecting anything. Not a phone call. Not a nothing.
“I had a lunch set-up with a friend of mine and the phone rang, and it was my agent, who said, ‘Detroit’s called.’ I almost crashed my truck.”
Just three hours after the free agency market opened, the Wings got a big, right-handed shooting defenseman that they coveted.
Commodore, who won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes, and was once traded to Ottawa for Wings forward Patrick Eaves
, signed a one-year deal worth $1 million with Detroit, his sixth NHL club.
Earlier in the day, Commodore was bought out by the Columbus Blue Jackets. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the Blue Jackets will pay Commodore $1.14 million in each of the next four years.
“I’ve had a tough couple of years,” said Commodore, who split last season between Columbus and its AHL affiliate. “I had a great year two years ago, my first year in Columbus. My next year was injury-filled with bad groins and I played like 60 games and only five when I was healthy. Then last year and that whole debacle there. … It just didn’t work out.”
Last summer, while playing golf in western Canada with other hockey types, Commodore was impressed with a particular front office boss, whom he had just formally met at the tournament, he said.
“I was fortunate enough to have golfed in Ken’s golf tournament last year and that was my first experience with him,” said Commodore, of Holland. “I had a great time. Obviously, the hockey side speaks for itself; I don’t need to pump his tires. He’s made some great decisions and has had wonderful success. But as a person, he was fantastic and I enjoyed being around him for those couple of days. From that experience, I knew that I would love to play for him some day.”
The Wings hope that Commodore can fill the vacancy created on the blue line when Brian Rafalski, also a right-handed shot, announced his retirement last month.
Commodore now gives the Wings six NHL defensemen signed. He joins Nicklas Lidstrom
, Niklas Kronwall
, Jonathan Ericsson
, Brad Stuart
and Jakub Kindl
. Commodore is the only right-hand shot.
“I think that was kind of a need,” Commodore said. “There was a shortage this summer of right-handed defensemen that were available. So that worked out for me; thank God I’m right-handed.”
The Red Wings now have 21 players signed to approximately $54.4 million, which leaves just over $9.9 million that the club has to work with under the salary cap. Friday was a busy day for the Wings who also re-signed some of their own UFAs, penning Ericsson and forward Patrick Eaves
to three-year deals, and forward Drew Miller
to two years.
Commodore, 31, was at least one of a dozen UFA defensemen to sign new deals Friday, joining former Red Wings Andreas Lilja (Philadelphia) and Derek Meech (Winnipeg), who also found new homes.
Originally drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the second-round pick in 1999, Commodore spent the past three seasons with the Blue Jackets, splitting time in 2010-11 between Columbus (20 games) and its American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield (11 games).
Commodore also spent two seasons in Calgary, three in Carolina, and one in Ottawa. In all, Commodore has played in 454 NHL games and has amassed 23 goals, 81 assists and 645 penalty minutes.
At 6-foot-5 and more than 230-pounds, Commodore gives the Wings four defensemen that are 6-2 or taller. He has been a top shut-down defenseman in the past, who can still log a lot of minutes both at even-strength and on the penalty-kill. He’s a solid defender and a steady presence at clearing the puck out of his own zone. And all Commodore is looking for is a fresh start to jump-start his career.
“I’m at a point in my career where I’d like to play and be an affective player for a few more years if I can,” he said. “I need to start this year and this will be a good opportunity to get back on track.”
The idea of possibly being paired on the blue line this season with a future hall-of-famer like Lidstrom has Commodore rejuvenated as he heads to Southern California this summer, he said.
“To be honest, there were a lot of things that made this decision very easy,” Commodore said. “But playing with (Lidstrom) certainly crossed my mind. If I’m fortunate enough to skate a couple of shifts with him then that would be spectacular. After all, he’s one of the best – if not the best – defenseman who has ever played the game. All of those guys on that team have been very successful.
“I’m just looking to fit in and do what I can.”Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill