By: Will Burchfield
It wasn’t long ago that Petr Mrazek was considered the Red Wings’ goalie of the future. On Monday he was traded to the Flyers for a pair of conditional draft picks.READ MORE: 133,000 People Remain Under Boil Water Advisory In Michigan, Could Take Weeks Before Water Is Safe To Drink
To Ken Holland, the pending restricted free agent wasn’t worth the cost of retention.
“I knew that I had to make a qualifying offer at $4 million per year. I was uncomfortable giving him $4 million a year. In the meantime, an opportunity came up for him in Philadelphia. I think it’s a great opportunity. I’m expecting him to play real good in Philadelphia,” Holland said Tuesday morning. “That’s the way he’s built.”
The Red Wings saw flashes of that foundation over the past four seasons. In 2015-16 they enjoyed it for a prolonged period of time. Mrazek was flat-out terrific in the middle portion of the schedule and seemed to have supplanted Jimmy Howard as Detroit’s No. 1 goalie moving forward.
That summer, with Mrazek boasting a .920 save percentage over 94 career NHL games, the Wings inked him to a two-year, $8 million contract. He was 24 years old.
“Certainly when we signed him two years ago, the plan, the hope was that he was going to take this team over and play 60 games a year. We were going to go in that direction,” Holland said.
The Red Wings maintained course at the outset of the 2016-17 season, but Mrazek couldn’t hold up his end of the deal. He struggled mightily early on, ceded the crease back to Howard and finished the year with a .901 save percentage. On top of his poor numbers, there were concerns about his attitude and work ethic. Last summer, the Wings left him unprotected in the expansion draft.
It was a challenge to Mrazek’s character, and by all accounts he responded well. He trained harder in the months that followed, both on the ice and off, and entered this season determined to reclaim the starting job in goal. Still, the performance wasn’t there. Mrazek was outplayed by Howard for much of the first half and only recently began to push for more time. On Monday, Holland decided that time had run out.
“I consider myself a very, very patient person. I want to believe in people, I want to give people lots of time because it’s a tough league and I don’t want to make assessments on players that are 21, 22. I have to give them time. In this instance, Mrazek’s 26. He’s been here for four or five more years,” Holland said.
“All I can do is watch games and make assessments based upon what I see,” he added.
Mrazek’s resurgence over the past month boosted his trade value. When the Flyers lost starting goalie Brian Elliott to an injury last week, Holland reached out to their GM, Ron Hextall, to let him know the Wings were open for business. Hextall’s interest increased when he saw his backup Michal Neuvirth go down over the weekend. Talks heated up on Monday and a deal soon came into place.READ MORE: Salvation Army Collecting Supplies For Back To School Drive
At the very least, the Wings will get a 2018 fourth-round pick in exchange for Mrazek. If certain conditions are met, they’ll secure as much as a second-round pick this year and a third-round pick next year. In Holland’s mind, Detroit’s future looked brighter with an influx of future assets than with Mrazek tending goal at a cost of $4 million per year.
“When I talked to Ron Hextall, my mindset isn’t so much about 2017-18 and ’18-’19. It’s about ’19-’20 and trying to acquire assets that I’m hoping can impact this team down the road,” Holland said. “That’s what motivated me to do this deal.”
Holland didn’t have to pull the trigger on Monday. He could have held out until next Monday’s trade deadline and possibly leveraged the Flyers’ desperation against them. Then again, the Flyers might have found a different solution between the pipes. In a market with very few teams looking for goalies, Holland took the best offer he felt was going to get.
“I have to make decisions based upon the information on hand. Could I have waited three, four, five more days? I guess, but…talking to Ron Hextall he told me he wanted to acquire a goaltender yesterday, so I have to make a decision yesterday. I can’t wait until Saturday or Sunday,” Holland said.
In 166 games over parts of six seasons with the Red Wings, Mrazek posted a .912 save percentage. But he fell to .903 over the past two seasons, the same two seasons the Wings expected him to definitively take over in goal. Viewed through the lens of the team’s hopes, things didn’t work out for Mrazek in Detroit.
“I guess it depends on how you define ‘worked out,'” said Jeff Blashill, who came up with Mrazek through the Wings’ farm system. “(.912) is a good save percentage in this league. It’s not great, but it’s a good save percentage in this league. I think we had two goalies in him and Jimmy that were both giving us good goaltending, and had (Mrazek) separated himself to where it was elite on a nightly basis he’d probably still be here.
“But right now he’d given us good goaltending, and at that point, Ken made the decision that Ken made. But I don’t know that (I’d say) ‘not worked out.’ I think Pete had his hand in a good number of wins here. I think like everybody else in this locker room we’re trying to win more than we have.”
Mrazek’s downfall was a lack of consistency. He could play like an All-Star one game and surrender six goals the next. He always possessed elite athleticism and thus the ability to make jaw-dropping saves. But Blashill, a former goalie himself, said it took Mrazek some time to learn the importance of refining his technique.
“Pete had lots of success on the way up to the NHL, being a competitor and his moxie, and I think as his years went along he realized he had to work at his technique and really work on making that better. I think he’s made a concerted effort. It didn’t always show, but I think over the last little bit it really started to come where his technique was starting to get himself to that spot,” said Blashill.
In his 10 games prior to the trade, Mrazek posted a .935 save percentage. Before that, through his first 12 games of the season, he was at .885. Holland has his theories for Mrazek’s inconsistency, but declined to share them on Tuesday.
“Certainly I’ve got ideas. Sometimes there’s things that I think about certain situations, (but) I can’t tell you people. I don’t think it’s fair to all the people involved,” Holland said.MORE NEWS: Detroit Police Searching For Multiple Carjacking Suspects
Still, by trading Mrazek, Holland revealed one aspect of his thinking: The goalie’s issues likely weren’t fixable. And the team’s future was no longer brighter with him in it.