Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Filppula endorses ex-mate Rafalski's return

Lightning center Valtteri Filppula, as much as anyone, will be watching to see if Brian Rafalski can successfully rejuvenate his NHL career.

Filppula was Rafalski's teammate with the Red Wings from 2007-11, until the puck-moving defenseman retired after an 11-year career in which he won three Stanley Cups and three times played for the United States at the Olympics.

Asked if he would like to see Rafalski in a Lightning uniform, Filppula said yes: "He'd definitely be a great addition."

No one is saying that is going to happen soon — or at all. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has said he knew nothing about Rafalski, 40, signing last week with ECHL Florida. That seems a bit odd given Tampa Bay shares the team in Estero with the Hurricanes.

But okay.

The circumstances, though, are hard to ignore considering Yzerman has been searching for defensive depth, especially depth that can add experience and savvy to a playoff run.

Certainly, this might all be innocent. Rafalski lives in the Fort Myers area and has been a youth coach for the Everblades and the team chaplain. But coach Greg Poss told the Fort Myers News-Press that Rafalski got the bug to play after participating two weeks ago in the Red Wings' Winter Classic alumni game (where Yzerman certainly would have had a chance to speak to him) and that Rafalski "wants to play in the NHL again."

"It's been a while for him not playing, but it will be interesting to see," Filppula said. "He's a smart player, skates well. So that's going to be the main thing. If he can still skate well, I'm sure he can play."

Rafalski, 5 feet 10, 200 pounds, definitely was a player, with 79 goals and 515 points in 833 career games. He won Cups in 2000 and 2003 with the Devils and 2008 with the Red Wings.

"He was definitely a big reason we were able to win the Cup and go far the next year (to the 2009 Cup final, losing to the Penguins in seven games)," Filppula said. "He's a great defenseman. He moves really well, makes a good first pass, is good on the power play. I only have positive memories of him. He was a really great player."

One, perhaps, the Lightning could use.

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