This post is part of Red Wings Day on PHT…
Last July, Petr Mrazek was on the rise. He was coming off a terrific season, posting career highs in nearly every statistical category, which led to a two-year, $8 million extension with the Red Wings. Though the negotiations were contentious — the two sides narrowly avoided arbitration — the deal looked to cement him as the club’s No. 1 netminder for the ’16-17 campaign and beyond.
Suffice to say, things haven’t gone to plan.
Mrazek struggled this year as Detroit’s quarter century-long playoff streak was snapped, and was routinely outplayed by Jimmy Howard. He finished with a .901 save percentage and 3.04 GAA, and many eyebrows were raised when GM Ken Holland opted to expose Mrazek, not Howard, to Vegas at the expansion draft.
In the aftermath, reports surfaced that Holland’s decision might’ve been a wake-up call.
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.
In July, there were more arched brows.
Goalie coach Jeff Salajko, who has a relationship with Mrazek from their days together in AHL Grand Rapids, said Howard would enter this season as Detroit’s No. 1 netminder. Salajko did so inadvertently — by discussing third-stringer Jared Coreau‘s role — but the message was pretty clear.
“We’re very comfortable with Jared as a third,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “I have no problem with him being the backup goalie, either. If we can keep Jimmy Howard healthy to play 50-55 games, I was comfortable with Jared in a role like that.
“But we obviously have Petr back — Vegas didn’t have interest in him, so I’m hoping he comes in with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.”
All this makes for a pretty curious dynamic. Mrazek’s contract is up at the end of this year but, given he’ll be an RFA when it expires, Detroit still has club control. And while the organization’s goal may be to play Howard 50-55 games, health and consistency could be issues.
The 33-year-old was limited to just 24 starts last year due to knee injuries and, even though he posted a .927 save percentage, Howard failed to crack the .910 mark in each of the three years prior.
Whatever the case, it’s obvious Mrazek is back in “prove it” territory again, and has plenty to play for.
The question, it seems, is how much he’ll get to play.