July 6, 2016
Wings’ Mrazek seeking arbitration could
make difficult summer more challenging
By KEITH GAVE
As Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland inspects the future of his franchise at the annual Prospects Camp in Traverse City this week, his work on the roster that will represent the team in the coming season – the last at Joe Louis Arena – is far from complete.
Certainly, he was busy as free-agent season opened Friday, signing three new forwards – center Franz Nielson and wingers Tomas Vanek and Steven Ott – and two of his own restricted free agents, forward Darren Helm and defenseman Alexey Marchenko.
But he did nothing to address the team’s defensive corps, which is badly in need of a top-pair defenseman because, with all due respect, the Wings don’t have one. For the past two seasons, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson have been masquerading as a top pair.
Kronwall, arguably the team’s most important player because he’s used in every situation (power play, penalty killing and against the other teams’ top lines), but asking him to do that on his beat-up knees just isn’t fair. And without Kronwall at his side, Ericsson appears adrift.
The challenge now is to winnow the number of forwards – the Wings have 17 forwards vying for 12 spots. Fourteen of them are non-exempt from waivers, including 2012 top pick Martin Frk. Almost certainly, a deal for a young defenseman like Cam Fowler, 24, of Anaheim, a Farmington Hills native, or Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba, 22, of Rochester, will begin with Tomas Tatar or Gustav Nyquist – and much more.
Both could be franchise defenseman – the kind who aren’t often available. But both the Ducks and the Jets have a surplus on the blue line, and both could use the kind of youthful firepower that the Wings can offer up front.
St. Louis is shopping Kevin Shattenkirk, but the Wings would not only have to come up with an exorbitant package but then sign him to a contract extension since he would become an unrestricted free agent – next summer’s Steven Stamkos – at the end of the season. That seems unlikely.
Just as pressing, Holland has two important contracts to negotiate with his own players: restricted free agents Danny DeKeyser and Petr Mrazek.
DeKeyser could well wind up in the No. 1 pair with whomever Holland acquires in a trade this summer. He’ll get a nice raise from the $2.25 million he was paid in 2015-16, but he doesn’t have the resume to command high dollars just yet.
Mrazek may think he does, which is where it could get interesting. There’s talk that Mrazek may take the Wings to arbitration – a rare occurrence in Detroit, a club known to be generous in the extreme to its own players (see Ericsson’s $4.25 million a season through 2020).
There is speculation that Mrazek, who made $737,500 last season, will seek upwards of $5 million a season in a long-term, similar to the five-year deal signed by Toronto’s Frederik Anderson.
Awarding him a deal like that would be ludicrous.
Detroit fans tend to fell in and out of love with their goaltenders on a whim. And in Mrazek’s case the performance does not support the infatuation.
While he has played brilliantly at times, he hasn’t shown the consistency a strong playoff team needs in goal. To be sure, Mrazek was outstanding the first half of last season, when he briefly led the league in goals-against average and save percentage. Then he lost the job to Jimmy Howard, only to regain it in time for a short playoff series against Tampa Bay after the Wings dropped the final two must-win games of the season and still made the playoffs.
Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, eh?
Now consider Tampa Bay’s Andrie Vasilevskiy, who took his team to the Western Conference Finals after Big Ben Bishop was injured. Vasilevskiy played so well that he’s GM Steve Yzerman’s goalie of choice. Yzerman is said to be willing to part with Bishop for the right price. And a few weeks ago, Vasilevskiy signed on for an additional three years averaging $3.5 million a season.
Which is where Mrazek should be. Tops. Anything more is overpaying. And considering the soft market for goalies – with Holland unable to move former starter Jimmy Howard – the Wings face the possibility of having far too much of their salary cap space taken up with goaltending. Howard, also treated too generously by Holland, will be paid nearly $5.3 million for another three seasons – wherever he plays as the starter or backup.
So far, Holland has had a pretty good off-season. But plenty of important work remains before we can call it a success.