(Those who visited Canes and Coffee last spring when the team was imploding will get the ice cream in the picture. Could Darling/Mrazek boost local ice cream sales?)
The opening day of the free agent signing period for the NHL, the Hurricanes addressed the team’s need to add a goalie. Shortly after it was officially announced that Cam Ward had signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Hurricanes announced the signing of Petr Mrazek to fill the slot previously occupied by Ward.
Petr Mrazek was signed for a bargain basement $1.5 million and with an ultra low risk one-year deal. The upside is that the deal eats up pretty much minimal budget and cannot be a negative past the end of the 2018-19 season. So the deal rates incredibly high for avoiding long-term financial risks.
Petr Mrazek’s history
As for the player that the Hurricanes obtained for their $1.5 million investment, in simplest terms I would consider Mrazek to be a high risk, high reward option and even a bit of a rebound bet. After a step-wise path and some seasoning at the AHL level with a few NHL games, Mrazek burst onto the NHL scene in during the 2014-15 season with a 16-9-2 record and a .918 save percentage and 2.38 goals against average. Mrazek continued his ascension in 2015-16 by seizing the Red Wings’ starting job and posting a 27-16-6 record in 54 starts with a solid .921 save percentage and 2.38 goals against average. His 2015-16 season vaulted him over Jimmy Howard, put him on the list of promising young starters at on 24 years of age and won him a two-year contract that paid $4 million per year.
Then he immediately regressed. His save percentage plummeted to .901 in a tough 2016-17 season that saw him exit the season by pretty much handing the starting job back to Jimmy Howard. Mrazek’s 2017-18 for Detroit was somewhat better in terms of basic statistics, but the damage had already been done in the year prior. There was no way that the Red Wings were going to invest $4M plus in a qualifying offer, so when the Flyers had both of their goalies go down with injuries in the middle of a playoff push, Mrazek was obtained at the trade deadline for an emergency fill in. He started okay with the Flyers but ultimately faltered in stumbling into free agency with an .891 save percentage in 17 starts for the Flyers.
Handicapping Petr Mrazek
So if I had to handicap Petr Mrazek, it would be as follows:
–Though it was for a short period of time, basically a single season, Mrazek has played well in a starter’s role.
–But he arrives in Raleigh as a bit of a rebound/bounce back bet coming off two lesser seasons since becoming a starter and then ultimately losing that job.
–He is not big by today’s NHL standards at only 6 feet 2 inches tall, but he is athletic and agile.
–In short, I rate him above average compared to the other options for risk because of his current down swing and inconsistency. But he does have starter upside and some experience in that role.
My 2 cents on the deal
I am on record as not being overly excited about any of the free agent goalie options available. As such, I had a strong preference for signing a one-year or maybe two-year deal so as not to put a bunch more contract commitment into what I think is mostly a dice roll. In that regard, the Hurricanes score 10 out of 10.
But I also was not high on Mrazek as compared to other options simply because he is currently at a bit of a low point looking to rebound and also has been somewhat inconsistent historically.
More directly, I am both surprised and a bit worried that the Hurricanes signed arguably the riskiest of the bunch with a rebound required just to be adequate. I liked other options better for a higher probability of success, but I admittedly like Mrazek’s contract.
Considering the other options
Saturday figured to be a day of goalie musical chairs and did not disappoint. Of the many second-tier goalies being bandied around, only Robin Lehner is still unsigned as of Sunday night.
The Bruins signed Jaroslav Halak to a two-year deal for $2.75 million per year to replace a departing Anton Khudobin. Halak is an interesting case. He had been in the dog house for a couple years with the Islanders, but his basic statistics are surprisingly pretty good. He maybe capitulated finally in 2017-18 with a .908 save percentage but had stayed in the teens for save percentage despite inconsistent playing time, bouncing down to the AHL and seemingly acrimonious relations with the team. I like Halak because his game really had not fallen off despite a difficult situation, and he has also logged a high volume of time as a starter.
Speaking of Anton Khudobin, he left Boston for two years at $2.25 million per year to be a backup in Dallas. Khudobin had a solid 2017-18 season, but I would pass on a goalie who I view as a backup at his stage of his career.
The Red Wings added Jonathan Bernier on a three-year deal for $3 million per year to replace Mrazek and probably be part of a 1A/1B tandem with Jimmy Howard. Bernier has some starter experience and is coming off of a decent 2017-18 season, but I would pass on committing for three years at a medium price.
The Buffalo Sabres inked Carter Hutton for three years at $2.75 million per year. I actually thought he might be even more expensive as the option many considered to be the best. I was not at all high on a long-term commitment to yet another player trying to transition from backup to starter.
Given a menu of all of the goalie contracts signed on Sunday, I would begrudgingly stretch to two years to net the volume of starter experience that Halak brings and to upgrade over Mrazek in terms of recent trajectory.
I stand by my assessment of the whole set of choices mostly being a high stakes dice roll. As such, I like the Hurricanes low cost and commitment. But at the same time, I would have considered spending a bit more for a veteran like Halak.
The position is SO important for the Hurricanes long-awaited rebound, and I feel like the team is entering the 2018-19 season with two fairly low probability dice rolls both with really low floors if things do not go well.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your initial thoughts on Petr Mrazek?
2) If given the chance to take any goalie/contract from Sunday’s signings, which would you choose and why?
3) With a Scott Darling/Petr Mrazek combination, what do you think the odds of goalie success are for the 2018-19 season?