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The Red Wings Should've Prioritized A Long-Term Future With Mrazek

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Mrazek's short-term contract will do for now, but the Red Wings should've been thinking long-term with his talent.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like the Red Wings priorities are backwards.

On Tuesday, Danny DeKeyser received a hefty six-year $30 million contract extension. The defenseman joins forwards Darren Helm and Luke Glendening, being rewarded handsomely with long-term extensions this off-season.

Wednesday, Petr Mrazek and the Red Wings narrowly avoided arbitration, getting an  11th hour bridge deal done to keep him here another two seasons at a cozy $4 million AAV (average annual value). At one point the two sides were around $2 million apart in negotiation.

It's good the Red Wings avoided arbitration to reach a compromise with Mrazek. But it's concerning such a talent was mere hours away from being Ken Holland's first official arbitration case, and the franchise's first since goaltender Mike Vernon in 1995.

Instead of making Mrazek's extension a high priority this off-season, they seemingly put it on the backburner then held contentious negotiations with his camp. Mrazek's imminent future with the Wings was never in doubt, but the franchise has spent this summer padding its long-term future. With former starter Jimmy Howard's tenure in question, you'd figure this would be a good time for long-term investment in Mrazek.

Yet DeKeyser got the long extension instead. More cap space is tied up in another long contract for another player who is solid but only that. DeKeyser is an average defenseman. He was a negative possession player this past season and even his traditional stats were the worst of any full season in his short career.

Not that DeKeyer's career is trending downward by any means. He'll be 26 this season and entering his prime. Whatever DeKeyser is, you'll likely get the best of him the next couple seasons-- I'm just not sure if that's much better than what we've seen the past three seasons and fearfully, what will he look like when he's 31?

While many in the local media hailed the merits of signing another skater to a long contract, you have to wonder what the Red Wings roster flexibility will be as players age or possibly become injured.

In 2013, the Red Wings chose to give Howard, then 28, a lengthy extension. Since, he's had a couple brilliant stretches, including an all-star game and a deep playoff run in 2013, but it's largely been marred with concussion and groin injuries, which will alter any goaltender no matter the talent.

Mrazek burst onto the scene in emergency relief four seasons ago and has fought like hell not to look back. He's risen to big moments with a Calder Cup in the American Hockey League and three playoff shutouts in 10 career playoff games.

At only age 24, Mrazek has shown impressive skill, beginning last season on a prolonged Vezina Trophy worthy tear. His ability to make high danger saves went along with a mid-season high save percentage (.934% at the all-star break) and a run of shutouts. While he seemed overlooked by many in the national media--like not even being in the all-star or Vezina conversation--he was beginning to firmly assert himself as the Red Wings new starting goaltender, furthering talks Howard would be traded by the start of the 2016-17 season.

Then Mrazek suffered a groin injury in late February. He stubbornly played injured through the Stadium Series game in Denver, and while he got the win, he looked shaky. For the remainder of the season never seemed himself, being pulled four times in his final 11 starts.

With the Red Wings flat-lining through the first two playoff games against Tampa Bay, Mrazek relieved Howard. Suddenly his struggles disappeared with a 16 save shutout in game 3. He went on to lose the next two games but play admirably, making a combined 57 saves.

The Red Wings have developed a rare commodity in Mrazek who's yet to hit a high ceiling. This was the opportunity to give him a long-term deal at a modest price, securing a young player with elite talent at a franchise altering position. Instead the Red Wings will have to cross Mrazek's bridge in two years and it wont be as easy while still paying for DeKeyser, Helm, Glendening and company.