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Petr Mrazek: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Detroit Red Wings v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

It’s no secret that Ken Holland’s offseason has been one to forget for Detroit Red Wings fans. And, as the puck is about to drop on a new season in a brand new arena in the heart of downtown Detroit, it is supposed to act as a distraction for all of the befuddling decisions made by the front office during the summer. Instead, some of those decisions — such as the Andreas Athanasiou contract situation — have left several people pessimistic and questioning what the future will hold for this hockey club.

Listen, if fans thought this past summer was a difficult one, just wait for next summer. The 2018 offseason might be the most important for the Red Wings in recent memory and should ultimately shed some light on the direction that this organization is headed. One of the more intriguing storylines next June will be the future of goaltender Petr Mrazek and where he fits into the future plans of the front office.

Some of you might wonder if Mrazek even deserves a contract extension at all, but I can tell you this, he might be the best chance of success they have in the crease for the foreseeable future. Jimmy Howard is signed for two more years at an AAV of $5.29-million and by the time that deal expires he will be 35. He carries plenty of baggage with his injury history and it’s not plausible that he signs an extension in Motown anywhere close to that previous dollar figure. Jared Coreau appeared in 14 games for the Wings last year and finished with a 3.14 GAA and .887 SV% — hardly flattering. Of course, Coreau’s numbers in the AHL were much more impressive. He finished with a 2.33 GAA and .917 SV% in 33 games, while managing to backstop the Grand Rapids Griffins to their second Calder Cup in the last five years. Is he ready to take the next step in his career or is he simply an AHL talent? Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that the goaltending situation of the future in Detroit is cloudy and Mrazek seems like their best option...for now.

Well, I got to thinking this week about all of the options on the table for Holland and how he can manage to keep Mrazek around long-term. So, after scrolling through the Red Wings salary cap page on capfriendly.com for several hours, I came up with a list of solutions.

Any potential deal with Mrazek in my mind will have to be done during the season because the Wings have two potential stars lurking in free agency next summer between Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha. And, no, the roughly $8-million in cap relief from Mike Green and Riley Sheahan hitting free agency can’t be used towards signing Mrazek. There’s no sugar coating it, they are the future in Hockeytown and could command big money (or more than the front office wants to give up) on any long-term extensions. It remains to be seen if the two of them will re-sign the type of deal that many players before them have done in Detroit and take a little off their asking price just to stick around. But, it seemed to be a different culture when player’s like Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall or Tomas Holmstrom were signing their extensions and how can we be sure that Larkin or Mantha share a similar sentiment?

Knowing that Holland (or whoever will be making the decisions as general manager?) will have to preserve some money to sign those two young forwards, he will have to look elsewhere to cut costs or clear space for Mrazek. This all starts with addressing a few of the veteran contracts they have on the books. We all saw a glorious opportunity slip through Holland’s grasp when he failed to exercise a buyout of Jonathan Ericsson’s contract back in June. That being said, what’s going to change his mind next summer when it comes to the same circumstance? There were rumors that surfaced around that time suggesting Kronwall and captain Henrik Zetterberg pleaded with the front office not to use the buyout. I, for one, certainly hope this isn’t true because it would appear that Holland has no control of this team when the inmates are reportedly running the asylum and he can’t see through the haze of this concept that the organization needs to show “loyalty” to its veteran players. If the answer is “no” to buying out Ericsson’s contract, then the only other option would be a trade. It’s possible that a team looking for defensive depth would take him on, but I can’t imagine that team would be so willing unless the Wings retained part of his salary.

Another veteran that needs to be dealt is Darren Helm. Simply put, at a cap hit of 3.85-million for the next four years, he’s well overpaid. Head coach Jeff Blashill will likely have Helm playing on the third line and killing penalties again this season and his contract carries no value. There is plenty of good, young talent in Grand Rapids that could play the same role for a quarter of the cost — Tyler Bertuzzi comes to mind, although he’s plagued by a wrist injury to start the year. Again, a trade like this would also likely require salary cap retention (and a waived NTC) in order for the deal to be made and Holland has nobody to blame but himself for another poor contract.

Wrapping up the trade ideas would be the decision to finally move on from Howard. I know Wings fans, we are nearly through with this contract too. The team cannot continue to dedicate more than $9-million to a pair of goaltenders. Quite frankly, it’s time to decide who your guy is and cut ties with the other. The market will certainly be thin for potential suitors and of course that $5.29-million cap hit is just simply too big for an opposing team to take on for a likely backup. Could the St. Louis Blues be in the market for some goaltending depth for Jake Allen? Maybe the Edmonton Oilers would be interested in a veteran backup for Cam Talbot?

The one possible outlier when it comes to Howard if the team can’t move him before trade deadline would be a buyout next summer. They didn’t use one on Ericsson, but could they be willing to accommodate it to rid themselves of Howard’s contract? If a buyout were to happen next June, then the Wings would be on the hook for $2.45-million in 2018-19 and 1.41-million in 2019-20. It’s not ideal, but it could be the difference in keeping Mrazek for the long haul and remember that there could be a couple options for Detroit when it comes to placing their veterans on the LTIR before the start of the 2018-19 season.

Speaking of LTIR, that is exactly where Kronwall is headed and hopefully sooner rather than later. Watching him take the ice in his previous matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks was nothing short of painful. Every time the puck would scurry to the corner in his own defensive end, Kronwall would seemingly move at a snails pace to retrieve it. Despite talk of him starting the year on LTIR (and making the entire fanbase giddy in the process) he somehow channeled his inner Undertaker, rising from the mat after a big fall at Wrestlemania and laced up his skates for practice the next day. It seems to me that the organization is treating this situation as though they are on the farm and the family’s favorite horse is on its last leg, nobody wants to put the horse down, but it needs to be done. Of course, you can’t tell a player their career is over, but in this case how much longer does Kronwall have, hobbling around on one leg? The Toronto Maple Leafs have found a way to keep Joffrey Lupul away and the mysterious case of Marian Hossa with the Hawks seems to be working for now. Why can’t Detroit do the same with Kronwall? In my mind, he’s legitimately injured and just can’t walk away.

The Wings certainly have their problems moving forward, but management needs to start prioritizing the future of this team. The playoff streak that captivated the hockey world for so many years came to an end last season. It’s time for this franchise to turn a new leaf and start building to a new streak and in the meantime Mrazek needs to be the centre piece of that crease. Trust me, the depth currently isn’t there and any chance they might have of a return to the playoffs starts with him in net.