The Wings have some critical personnel decision to make this summer. There are RFA's to sign, UFA's to let go, kids to promote, and under contract players to jettison. One of the crucial decision to be made is whether or not to re-sign Jonas Gustavsson to back up Jimmy Howard next year, or bring Petr Mrazek up full time and let Monster find another team.
I believe this should be one of the easiest decision the Wings have to make this summer, aside from bidding farewell to Mikael Samuelsson and Danny Cleary. Jonas Gustavsson was a good back up this year, he continued to revitalize his career and played well when he wasn't injured. He is not, however, part of the Red Wings future, they're not going to count on him to continue the success of the team as Jimmy gets older, and they don't need to because they already have that player banging on the door.
Petr Mrazek has proven himself in the AHL already and continues to be one of the best goalies in the league. He turned pro in the 2012-2013 season and made his ECHL, AHL, and NHL debuts all in a 4 month span and has excelled at every level. He had the 2nd best GAA (2.10) in the AHL in the regular season this year, and the 3rd best SV% (.924) and a 22-9-1 record while also posting 1.74 GAA and .927 SV% and 2 shut outs in 9 games with the Wings. He's continually improved his already sound technical play while increasing his consistency and he's been great so far in the playoffs, going 3-1-0 with a .936 SV% and 1.72 GAA.
Mrazek could spend another year dominating the AHL, but he's still only going to be facing AHL competition. He's at the point in his development where he's good enough to play in the NHL and will continue his growth and development at a much higher rate at that level. Every goalie progresses and develops at a different rate and Mrazek is above average. Would his continued development be better served playing 60-70 games in the AHL as opposed to 30 in the NHL next year? I don't think so at all. Mrazek has advanced enough in his development that continuing to face AHL competition helps him less than facing NHL competition, even if it's fewer games. The Wings are reportedly taking the following approach
"We believe we've got a 60-game No. 1 goalie (in Howard)," Holland said. "Is Petr Mrazek, as a 22-year-old, better off playing 15-18 games in the NHL or is he better off playing 65 games in the AHL for one more year? That's the internal conversation we've got to have."
but planning to only play Mrazek 15-18 games would be a mistake. Mrazek is a kid who isn't happy just coming in and playing back up and warming the bench; his play reflects his ambitions. He's not going to come to Detroit to play 20 games a season and sit back and let Jimmy run the show, he's going to come in and force the coaches to play him more based on his performance. So even if the "plan" is to give him 20 games next season in Detroit, he will play more because he'll be that good. He has the skill, maturity, and mental fortitude to play in the NHL right now.
What about the idea that there's no room on a team for two "starting" goaltenders? Hogwash! The Wings will be a much better team with 2 good goalies who are pushing each other and challenging each other. We've already seen some of this dynamic from Howard and Mrazek in the short time they've played together. Mrazek makes other players better, Tom McCollum has given Petr a lot of credit for the improvement in both his game and in his confidence and even Jimmy Howard recently said....
"Watching Petr, he doesn't hesitate, he just goes out and does it,'' said Howard. "You're never too old to learn something new, so thanks, Pete. That's one of his strengths, so watching him play the puck and move it in practice and during the game on Sunday, I just like how he doesn't double think anything, he just goes out and does it.''
With goaltending being the most mentally challenging position in hockey, and possibly any professional sport, it's important that a young goalie not be brought in before he's ready. Mrazek is one of the mentally strongest players I've seen. Win or lose, it make no difference to Mrazek's confidence and level headed demeanor and under pressure he shows a maturity beyond his years.
The bottom line is that Mrazek is ready for the NHL, he'll push Jimmy Howard to be better and I believe will be pushing for the starter position in a year or two. Mike Babcock said
"His mindset is simple - he's not up here trying to get Gus' job, he's up here getting Howie's job.
"He just thinks nothing bothers him. He thinks he's great. I like that."
He is the franchise goalie of the future, so why not bring him up next year and allow him to continue his development. Mik Babock called him "The Berries" because he wins wherever he goes, and he loves the compete level and determination Mrazek has.
Red Wigns Goaltending Coach Jim Bedard summed up Mrazek's attitude very well.
"He's a very unique personality, he doesn't come off as being cocky but he comes off as being very confident," Wings goalie coach Jim Bedard said. "As a goaltender you pretty much go through your whole life from the time you're eight or nine years old with everyone telling you you're not good enough at this, you can't do that. If you keep listening to that little guy on your shoulder you're not going to have a very long career at a high level. He just seems to go and go and go. If something happens that's not favorable, he just pushes it off and it doesn't seem to have a hangover effect, he goes right back in practice and attacks it. His demeanor doesn't change, that's what his teammates like to see every day."
What I see from Mrazek game in and game out is confidence, skill, dedication, and the crucial ability to shake off a bad goal. Nothing gets him down or shakes him and he has the skills for the NHL. It's an easy decision. Bring him up to Detroit next season.