(I know I’m a bit late to the whole Ian White signing, but I had more important business like the Hot Dog eating contest to get to)
The goal of any sports fan is to be right. I’ll make you right about Ian White.
Fans arguing about personnel isn’t an argument but a back-and-forth, presenting whatever the popular speculations in the media are as facts. For the Red Wings in free agency, this used be easy. Find a big free agent name that Ken Holland already mentioned and talk about how awesome of a fit it was:
“The Red Wings are going to sign Rafalski. He’s right-handed, from Dearborn, and moves the puck well. It’s a perfect fit.”
“There’s no doubt that Derian Hatcher is coming here. He’s the big type of defenseman that the Wings need.”
It was too easy. Fans were right (about the signings, not necessarily the fit) 90% of the time.
Now, with a salary cap, the organization has gotten more creative. The Wings can’t throw enough money out there to get the guy they want. The organization has to target more players and hope that one takes less to come to a winning team.
But fans’ projections haven’t changed. More players are on our radars but there’s still a sense of a foregone conclusion. We still take players the media talks about and decide it’s the only way the Red Wings should go.
“James Wisniewski is from Canton. He’s a mobile defenseman. The Red Wings need a mobile defenseman. He’s coming here.”
When the projection doesn’t pan out, we don’t look at the money being way too high or the defenseman feeling he didn’t fit in. We only see the Red Wings not luring the guy they wanted. They took the leftovers on the market in Mike Commodore and Ian White to temporarily fill a hole. They didn’t replace Brian Rafalski.
While it’s true they won’t have the offense from the blue line next season that they did with Rafalski, they may have used this year’s free agency to replace Rafalski a year down the road and beyond.
I wrote that San Jose can keep Ian White and that he would be in Grand Rapids by December.
I was a little harsh. I was basically just looking at the amount of times he was traded and thought about how no one wanted him. It’s pretty obvious San Jose did. They traded a second-round pick to get him and only released him when they traded for Brent Burns and ran out of cap space.
The more I think about his series against the Red Wings and the more research I do on him, the more one question pops back into my head:
Why can’t he be the next Brian Rafalski?
White’s got the same build as Rafalski at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds and, perhaps because of the lack of size, a bit of the same game: the agility to go around defenders, the focus on making a good first pass instead of carrying it and getting caught deep in the offensive zone.
Despite popular opinion White isn’t a veteran journeyman, just good enough to make a roster but not able to be a top defenseman. He’s only 27. If there’s one thing we learned from Rafalski it’s that these type of defensemen can be late bloomers. Rafalski didn’t make it to the NHL until he was 26. In terms of NHL experience White’s development is way ahead. He’s already played 401 games in the NHL.
Also, the Wings just signed a different 27 year-old defenseman who they believe is primed to take the next step in his career: Jonathan Ericsson. (They also signed him for more money than White)
So why can’t White take a giant step in his offensive game? Mikael Samuelsson (a different situation but still relevant) came to Detroit with single-season high of 22 points, realized he could shoot through a wall, and then scored 34 points or more every year he was here. White is a puck moving defensemen that fits the Red Wings’ puck possession game. He’ll play the power play. He may not have the pure offensive ability that Rafalski had, but as long as he makes the right passes the offensive numbers will increase.
Add that to the bit of douche-baggery that he brings to a blue line that needs it and all of the sudden not wrangling the guy “we” wanted doesn’t seem like such a failure.
White isn’t Brian Rafalski. But he will be fine as Rafalski’s replacement.