Let’s flashback to three years ago.
Czech netminder Petr Mrazek, is coming off a brutal end to the 2017-18 season, where after being dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers at the trade deadline, he posted a 0.891 save percentage and 3.22 goals against average in 17 regular season games for them and because of that, saw only a single playoff game — a relief effort where two goals got past him on only 14 shots.
His options are limited and the offers aren’t flying in.
But he did manage to land a gig with the offer coming from a team with a long floundering struggle in net. The Canes were opting to move on from long time netminder Cam Ward, and their acquisition from the year prior, Scott Darling, was proving to be a tremendous misstep.
So the net was up for grabs, and they were willing to give Mrazek a shot at it.
“That was something that I was looking for,” Mrazek had said at the time of the deal. “The opportunity to start in net and get as many games as I can. That was going to be the number one choice for me. I was really excited and happy that Carolina wanted to give me the chance.”
It even went beyond just the chance to start, as Mrazek also sought just a one-year deal to actually prove to himself he could do it.
“When I talked to my agent about it, that was the first thing I was telling him,” Mrazek had said. “That I would like the one-year deal because I had it before when I was in Detroit and I felt pretty good with that. It’s something that’s going to put me under a little bit more pressure and that’s something I like. To play with more pressure on me.”
Now, three years later, Mrazek seems to be back to form, having helped the Canes not only snap the playoff drought, but also make three straight playoff appearances as well as a trip to the Eastern Conference Final.
And it would have been Mrazek leading the charge all three years for the Hurricanes, but a friendly-fire thumb injury and subsequent lower-body injury kept the 29-year old netminder on the sidelines for the majority of this prior season.
By the time he was fully recovered, it was Alex Nedeljkovic’s net as the rookie goaltender had put up league leading numbers during the regular season to earn the chance to start the playoffs.
Now it seems that Nedeljkovic will be the leading option for the Hurricanes moving forward, and with Mrazek at the end of another contract, is he going to want to accept the role as the 1B option to re-sign with Carolina?
However, there’s still a degree of uncertainty with Nedeljkovic on if will be able to replicate his single season numbers so keeping a known commodity like Mrazek might be the safest bet from the team’s perspective. Mrazek would still have the opportunities to play and be counted on as well.
The league is more and more heading away from the starter and backup structure for netminders and instead towards a 1A and 1B split (Unless you’re a team like Tampa Bay or Montreal that can ride one of the world’s best netminders all the way to the end).
The question is, is that what Mrazek and Nedeljkovic will want to do? And will each take the money that comes with that split load?
The average cost of goaltending at the start of last season was around $7 million per team ranging from the tremendous sunk cost of the Montreal Canadiens ($13.375 million) to the budget tandem of the Washington Capitals ($1.641 million).
So the Hurricanes’ goal should be to stay around that average.
Would a split cost between Mrazek and Nedeljkovic each getting paid $3.5 million make sense for both parties?
I took a look at contract comparables for Nedeljkovic a few weeks ago and I can’t see him and the Hurricanes managing to get to any deal higher than $3.5 million — even in spite of the ridiculous 5x$5 contract Jim Benning handed over to Thatcher Demko.
But the big question will be about Mrazek and if wants to look around for a team searching for that number one guy, much like he did three years ago.
He searched the market again just two years ago yet he still came back to Carolina and the same thing could very well happen again.
The situation in Carolina is good. He can make a bit more money and be part of a strong tandem with a team still in a good position to compete. Plus the team did give him the chance to re-establish himself.
If the team and netminder can reach a deal that works for both parties, the Canes bringing back Mrazek makes a lot of sense.