It seems like the relationship between Petr Mrazek and the Detroit Red Wings has been through a lot in the last year.
They were scheduled to go to arbitration last summer — a team-requested arbitration hearing — before coming to terms on a new deal, and, after a difficult season for the 25-year-old netminder, the Red Wings have now left Mrazek unprotected in the expansion draft.
It was one of the bigger surprises when the protected/available lists were revealed.
The eight-year age discrepancy between him and 33-year-old Jimmy Howard has something to do with it, as does contract. Howard has two more years remaining at a costly $5.291 million cap hit and is a pending unrestricted free agent when this current deal is over. Mrazek, who had a .901 save percentage this season, is the cheaper of the two right now at $4 million.
However, a few theories about why the Red Wings made Mrazek available to the Golden Knights have started to circulate.
Part of the reason Mrazek’s luster has faded could be due to deportment issues that can be traced to contentious off-season contract negotiations (they settled on a two-year, $8 million deal; Mrazek will be a restricted free agent in 2018).
Mrazek was not happy the Red Wings were unable to trade Howard in the off-season and let the club know in less-than-tactful terms.
Mrazek has always had a swagger and air of confidence, which appealed to the Red Wings. But sometimes he’s too cocky for his own good, some in the organization believe. He became increasingly difficult to coach last season, they said.
According to The Athletic, the Red Wings had tried to trade Mrazek prior to the expansion draft, but couldn’t get something done in the end.
When things went sideways for Mrazek this season, there was concern internally about his response. Rather than digging in and trying to work his way out of it, Mrazek, according to multiple sources, soured and placed the blame elsewhere.
Contrasted against Howard, whose work ethic picked up when his play went south in previous seasons, it presented a tough decision for an organization with an embedded belief in culture and work ethic for its best players.
“Work has never been a problem in Detroit,” said one NHL source outside the Red Wings organization. “And there’s a changing of the guard and the leadership is changing. You can’t let that creep in. If that guy, who doesn’t want to work, is going to be handed your No. 1 goalie job, it changes everything.”
The two sides were able to avoid arbitration last summer.
But if George McPhee decides to take a pass on Mrazek in the expansion draft, it might make for an uncomfortable situation for all parties concerned in Detroit this summer and leading into next season.