February 20, 2018 | 10:59pm ET
By Anthony Di Marco, The Fourth Period
FOR FLYERS, MRAZEK DEAL WAS A NO-BRAINER
Petr Mrazek, goalie
MONTREAL, QC -- You’ve got to give it to Ron Hextall, he is a man of his word. From Day One, he has preached “patience” when it came to building a team. Whether it be drafting, coaching, developing, trading, you name it, Hexy always stuck to his guns and stayed patient.
But, everyone has a breaking point, and Hextall’s patience was finally pushed to the limit by the goaltenders this past week.
Another injury to goaltender Michal Neuvirth (who Hextall announced is out indefinitely) forced the Philadelphia General Manager to pull the trigger on Monday night, bringing in Petr Mrazek from the Detroit Red Wings. Hextall gave up a conditional 2018 fourth-round draft pick (which could become a second-round pick based on how deep the Flyers go in the post season and how many games Mrazek wins) and a conditional 2019 third-round pick (on whether or not Mrazek re-signs with Philadelphia), while Detroit retained half of Mrazek’s salary. All in all, it was a rather modest price to pay to sure up the goaltending position for a proven NHL goaltender.
It wasn’t like Hextall made this decision easily. It was reported over the weekend that Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland had previously offered Mrazek to the Flyers for a third-round pick immediately after Brian Elliott (who is projected to be out until late March) went down with injury. It literally took the Flyers’ top two goaltenders (and top three if you were to count Anthony Stolarz, who has been hurt all season) on the organizational depth chart to get hurt for Hextall to pull the trigger on a trade.
Given how well the Flyers have played over the last two months (having won 22 of their last 32 games since their 10 game losing streak), it wouldn’t have been very noble of Hextall to have left the team with no proven NHL caliber goaltender.
“The players have done a great job and worked hard,” Hextall said following the trade. “I didn’t feel like it was fair to not have a proven NHL goaltender for this team.”
Those words could not be truer, as the Flyers have been one of the league’s hottest teams since mid-December.
The Flyers’ amazing two-month stretch (and recent stretch of 6-0-2 in their last eight) has set them up relatively comfortably in a playoff spot, with a six point cushion heading into Tuesday night’s game versus the Montreal Canadiens. But although the Flyers are in a good spot currently, it is not hard to fall out of the playoff picture in a short amount of time (like the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers), as we’ve seen all season long in the Metropolitan division. With there being so much parody and such little room for error in the ever tight division, gambling on the goaltending situation would’ve not been a wise move for the Flyers.
Although AHL call-up goaltender Alex Lyon performed remarkably (pushing aside 25 of 26 shots) in relief for Michal Neuvirth on Sunday afternoon against the Rangers, it would not have been fair to the team or the goaltender to let the young goalie shoulder all that responsibility. The sample size is just not big enough to trust Lyon to carry the Flyers down the stretch to secure a playoff spot.
In Mrazek, who was a fifth-round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the Flyers have got a proven NHL goaltender who has the potential to be a starter. Despite having a down year last season, Mrazek has a solid track record. In 2015-16, the last year the Red Wings made the playoffs, Mrazek posted a 27-16-6 record with a 2.33 GAA and a .921 save percentage. This year has been relatively good as well, as he currently has a 2.89 GAA with a .910 save percentage, playing with a mediocre at best Detroit team.
The potential is there with Mrazek, and more than that he is not just a rental. There is a bit of cost certainty with Mrazek, as the 26 year old is a Restricted Free Agent at the end of the year, so the potential for an extension is possible. In addition, Mrazek is still relatively young, especially for a goaltender.
But even though this is a big win for the Flyers, it may be an even bigger win for Mrazek himself. Mrazek, who publicly voiced his displeasure last season with the direction of the Red Wings, has the chance to take the reins in Philadelphia as the starter. With the goaltending picture being forever foggy in Philly, Mrazek has both age and a solid track record on his side, which could land him a spot in the Flyers’ crease beyond this year.
Although the Flyers have promising goaltending prospects coming up the pipeline in Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom, it wouldn’t be a bad move to invest in a 26 year goaltender with a proven track record in the meantime. After all, it is no secret that goaltenders take the longest to develop, so it’s not hard to imagine both Sandstrom and Hart needing several more seasons to cement themselves as NHL goaltenders. Coupled with the fact that Elliott and Neuvirth both don’t have much term left on their deals (both expiring at the end of next season), the path may be drawn out for a hungry Mrazek.
Any way you slice it, this deal was both necessary and properly executed by Hextall. He gave up minimal assets and was able to obtain more than just a rental. It could be argued that Mrazek is a better option even when Elliott and Neuvirth are healthy, along with being significantly younger. Yes, the everlasting revolving door in the Philadelphia crease continues to turn, but this time, it may be for the best.