Final Thoughts on Petr Mrazek

Much like my thoughts on Andreas Athanasiou‘s mindset during his holdout last fall, I have a theory on Petr Mrazek‘s tumultuous tenure with the Red Wings.  A lot of it is conjecture, so take it with a grain of salt, but I don’t think I’m far off.

Mrazek was known as a cocky goalie from the start.  His celebrations while playing for the Czech Republic in the 2012 World Junior Championship introduced him to the world.  His “attitude problems” through the 2016-17 season can be attributed to it.  His comments upon being traded reflect it.

“The pressure for both of us was pretty high,” he said. “You have to show up every night if you want to play the next game. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s a really good thing when we can battle between goalies and do the best that we can. Sometimes when they say, ‘you’re the guy who’s gonna play for a while,’ I think it’s better.”

Specifically that last line.  I read that as Mrazek being frustrated that he was never made “the guy” in Detroit.  Some might say he never earned it, given his regression last season, but I think the slump was caused by feeling threatened by the presence of Jimmy Howard.

We don’t know what went down in meetings between Mrazek and Ken Holland.  We don’t know the reasons behind decisions made by Mike Babcock and Jeff Blashill.  But what if it went something like this…

In 2012, Mrazek is coming off being named the best goaltender at the World Juniors.  He wraps up his OHL career and goes pro in the fall.  The Red Wings assign him to the ECHL to start the season but he quickly replaces future doctor Jordan Pearce in the AHL as the backup for the Grand Rapids Griffins, then supplants Tom McCollum as the starter.  He even gets in a couple games in Detroit, going 1-1 with a respectable .922 save percentage and 2.02 GAA.  By spring, he’s leading the Griffins to their first-ever Calder Cup Championship.

For 2013-14 Mrazek is back with the Griffins, with Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson manning the crease in Detroit.  In 32 games he drops his GAA to 2.10 and his save percentage gets up to .924.  He gets into nine games in Detroit, putting together a 1.74 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

Come summer of 2014, Mrazek has put together stellar numbers through the first two years of his pro career and Gustavsson’s contract is up.  There is no reason for him to not think that he’s earned the backup role in Detroit.  Yet the Red Wings re-sign Gustavsson after a season where he had a 2.63 GAA and a .907 save percentage.  With one year left on his existing deal, Mrazek signs a one-year contract extension – a one-way  contract to ensure he’s in Detroit for 2015-16 – but starts 2014-15 in Grand Rapids.

Injuries open the door for Mrazek, who steps in and plays 29 games.  His 2.38 GAA and 9.18 save percentage are better than both Howard and Gustavsson.  He starts all seven games of Detroit’s playoff series with the Tampa Bay Lightning and, though the Red Wings drop the series, Mrazek  improves on his regular season stats, going 2.11 and .925.

Despite his playoff starts, Mrazek is the backup when the Red Wings start the 2015-16 season.  He ends up starting 49 games, though, with a 2.33 GAA and a .921 save percentage, better than Howard’s 2.80 and .906.

Come Game One of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs – with the Red Wings facing the Lightning again – Howard gets the start.  In the first two games of the series, Howard puts up a .891 save percentage and a 3.59 GAA as the Red Wings go down, 2-0.  Mrazek takes over for Game Three but Detroit falls in five games.  Mrazek’s GAA is 1.36 and his save percentage is .945.

Mrazek’s contract extension from 2014 is up and on July 27, 2016, he agrees to something of a bridge deal, two years at $4 million each.  It’s less than Howard’s salary and a shorter deal but he’s being paid like a starter.  The rumor is that Howard will be dealt.  By all appearances, the Red Wings are now Mrazek’s team.

But Howard isn’t dealt.  Mrazek gets the start to open the season in Tampa and at the final home opener at Joe Louis Arena.  He gets 14 starts in the first two months, being pulled once.  Howard started 11 games, also being pulled once.  It’s clear it’s a 1A-1B situation.

It’s at this point that the wheels come off for Mrazek.  Even with Howard hurt for much of the season, Mrazek puts up the worst numbers of his career, with a 3.04 GAA and a .901 save percentage.  Both are better than the 3.46 and .887 of Jared Coreau, who “steals” some of Mrazek’s starts, including the outdoor Centennial Classic in Toronto.  Rumors abound about Mrazek’s attitude and it’s even suggested that Coreau is the true heir-apparent to the Detroit crease.

Six months later, Mrazek is left unprotected in the expansion draft, going unclaimed.

He comes into the 2017-18 season the clear backup.  It’s expected the Red Wings won’t even give him a qualifying offer when his contract is up (which has since been confirmed).  His .910 save percentage and 2.89 GAA nearly match Howard’s numbers but Mrazek ends up dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers.

If I were in Mrazek’s skates, I would have a bad attitude, too, and it would certainly impact my play.  I’m not saying it’s okay for that, just that I can understand it.

You rise up from the ECHL to the AHL to the NHL in your first season and carry your team to a Calder Cup Championship.  The next year your stats are even better, but a worse goalie is re-signed to play in front of you.  You take over the starting role anyway and make the most of it, putting up great numbers in a seven-game playoff series.

By next fall, you lose the starting role anyway.  You fight your way back to become the playoff starter again, you get a starter’s contract, and then again you’re the backup on opening night and the guy who they said they’d trade is still there taking up space in your crease.

It’s in your head, you falter, and suddenly the third-string goalie who hasn’t done anything is stealing your starts.  The spiral continues.  You pull yourself together over the summer.  After a rough start, you’re putting up similar numbers to your partner in the crease.  But it’s too late, you’re out.

Again, I’m not saying that Mrazek didn’t slump and didn’t have an attitude.  I’m saying that I can see why he would have one and why it would impact his play.  And, with that perspective in mind, it’s also why I think the Red Wings should have tried harder to deal Jimmy Howard, rather than giving up on Mrazek.

Red Wings Acquire Prospect Sadowy from San Jose

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Thursday the acquisition of prospect forward Dylan Sadowy from the San Jose Sharks.

Sadowy, 20, was the Sharks’ third round pick (81st overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He will re-enter the draft this season unless he signs an entry-level deal with the Red Wings by June 1st. Reportedly that deal has already been agreed to.

In return Detroit sends San Jose a third round pick in the 2017 draft. That pick could be either their own or the one received from the Toronto Maple Leafs when head coach Mike Babcock left the Wings for the Leafs last summer.

A native of Woodbridge, Ontario, Sadowy scored 45 goals and 25 assists for 70 points in 64 games last season, split between the Saginaw Spirit and Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League.

Postgame: Maple Leafs @ Red Wings – 10/9

Cathartic. That’s how this game felt. Which seems weird to say, I think.

There weren’t really questions about the Red Wings coming into the game, demons to exorcise or anything like that. But a loss to the Maple Leafs, a bad team led by Detroit’s former coach, could have started those questions. With that win, instead of questions we have a statement. Or a series of them.

No, the Wings don’t need Mike Babcock. Yes, the new kid really is pretty damn good. No, Jimmy Howard is not done.

The energy in the arena felt like a playoff game. And a huge amount of it was surrounding Dylan Larkin. Every goal was a celebration but people lost their minds over Larkin’s goal. For the first time in seemingly forever, the Red Wings have a kid – a home-grown kid at that – to be excited about. A kid that can jump onto the top line for his first career game and not look out of place. Not just not look out of place, but produce.

I mean, that game was pretty much The Abby and Larks Show with special guest Henrik Zetterberg. The way those two were playing, it was possible for Zetterberg to “quietly” put up three points of his own.

Yeah, it was an awful Maple Leafs team. Gotta take that into consideration. Yes, it’s only one game. But we saw something to be excited about and the opponent doesn’t take away from that.

Abdelkader, Larkin Lead Red Wings Past Maple Leafs on Opening Night

Justin Abdelkader scored a hat trick and rookie Dylan Larkin added his first career NHL goal as the Detroit Red Wings breezed to a 4-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night.

The win was the first for new Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill, opening the season with a victory over former head coach Mike Babcock, who left for Toronto in the offseason.

Goalie Jimmy Howard earned the shutout for the Red Wings, stopping all 22 shots he faced.

Abdelkader opened the scoring just 1:15 into the game. On a Detroit power play, Henrik Zetterberg fed Johan Franzen for a shot from the right faceoff circle that careened off the far post. The puck bounced off the back of goalie Jonathan Bernier‘s leg and towards the goal, with Abdelkader jumping in to knock it across the goal line.

At 8:20 of the period, Larkin won a battle for the puck in the right-wing corner and send a pass to Abdekader in the slot for a quick shot past Bernier and a 2-0 lead.

The rookie’s goal came just 20 seconds into the second period. Larkin raced down the left wing past Toronto’s Nazem Kadri and snapped a shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle into the top of the near-side corner of the net, over Bernier’s shoulder.

Abdelkader completed the hat trick against James Reimer, who replaced Bernier after Larkin’s goal. At 3:54 of the middle frame, Abdelkader and Larkin raced into the Toronto end after a turnover in the neutral zone. Abdelkader held onto the puck down the right side and snapped a shot from the inside edge of the faceoff circle past Reimer for a 4-0 lead.

Reimer finished the night with 12 saves on 13 shots. Bernier stopped six of the nine shots he faced.

Detroit went 1-for-4 on the power play while Toronto was scoreless on three chances with the extra attacker.

The Red Wings are right back in action on Saturday night, visiting the Carolina Hurricanes.


Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm, and Danny DeKeyser all started the season on injured reserve for the Red Wings… Joakim Andersson, Tomas Jurco, and Alexey Marchenko were healthy scratches… Larkin is the first teenager to score in his debut for the Red Wings since Steve Yzerman.

TPL Pregame: October 9 – Loving You Makes Life Worth Living

Editor’s Note: I miss The Production Line. You should, too. Back for one night only (unless you guys convince them otherwise), it’s the TPL Pregame.


WHAT’S ALL THIS THEN?

The Detroit Red Wings begin their 90th season in the National Hockey League, and will face off against their former coach Mike Babcock and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Puck drops at 7:30pm at Joe Louis Arena.

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?

The big story will be the changing of the coaching guard. Out with the old (Babcock), and in with the new (Jeff Blashill). The excitement level among the community is higher than it’s been in several years — thanks in part to the new voice behind the bench…as well as the opportunity given to a teenager in Dylan Larkin. If you think a player like Larkin had a chance in hell at making this team with Mike Babcock running the show, you need a CAT scan.

NOW, WHERE WERE WE?

The Wings and Maple Leafs played five times in 2014-15, with the teams splitting the season series 2-2-1. The fifth and final meeting was on December 13th, wherein Detroit lost 4-1 and the Leafs won their fourth in a row. Niklas Kronwall had the first goal of the game — but the 1-0 lead lasted exactly one minute before James van Riemsdyk began the onslaught. The defense took the night off, with Petr Mrazek facing 40 shots (who lost his first contest of the season), and Dan Cleary played in the 600th contest of his career. He would go on to play nine more (and was a healthy scratch for 42 more…but was re-signed anyway).

OH, HI AGAIN

The obvious returnee to the Joe is former head coach Mike Babcock, but he also took former assistant coaches Jim Hiller and Andrew Brewer with him to Toronto, where he joined a front office led by former alternate captain Brendan Shanahan. Forward Shawn Matthias was a second round draft pick of the Red Wings in 2006, but he was traded a year later in exchange for — wait for it — 8 games of Todd Bertuzzi (obviously, Bert would sign with Detroit again a few seasons later). It never came to pass, but if Twitter was to be believed on Trade Deadline Day, Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf was AS GOOD AS a Red Wing for a few hours.

MEMBA ME

There are no former Maple Leafs on the Red Wings, because good teams don’t take leftovers from shitty ones. But if you want to get technical, the Griffins assistant coach Ben Simon once played for (and coached) the Marlies. That’s as close as we’re willing to get. –PETRELLA

BEST NAME NOMINEE

I’m going with Stephane Robidas. I’ve always been a Johnny Cash/Boy Named Sue fan, and I can’t help but see some odd connection between a guy sporting a ladies name and who spent a good chunk of his career in Texas. I feel like there’s a “Call me Caitlyn” moment coming here where, during his retirement speech, he reveals that he’s been tucking and wearing silk t-back lady thongs for the past decade. When that happens, people will call me a genius, and I’ll just sit back in my brass buttoned leather wingback, knowing I’d spotted it long ago. –DISCH

THEIR LAST GAMES

While the Red Wings were bounced by the Lightning in the first round last season (losing Game 7 by a score of 2-0), at least they had a date to the dance. The Maple Leafs’ season ended somewhere around January, but — believe it or not — they played until April 11th. They opened their 2015-16 season on Wednesday and — wait for it! — lost to the Montreal Candiens 3-1. Turns out you CAN’T polish a turd, Babs!

EXPECTED LINEUP

Gator :: Hank :: DYLAN LARKIN (!!!)
Tatar :: Richards :: Nyquist
Franzen :: TinkyWinky :: Pulkkinen
Miller :: Glendening :: Ferraro

Kronwall :: Shitbox
Quincey :: Mike Green
Smith :: Kindl

Howard
Mrazek

Injured
Pavel Datsyuk (ankle, expected back mid-November)
Danny DeKeyser (foot, early November)
Darren Helm (concussion, next weekend)

Scratches
Joakim Andersson
Dan Cleary
Tomas Jurco
Alexey Marchenko

NICKNAMES

Mike “Remember When We Held on in the Rain?” Babcock
Niklas “The Nights We Almost Lost It” Kronwall
Jiri “Once Again We Can Take the Night Into Tomorrow” Hudler
Tomas “Living on Feelings” Tatar
Gustav “Touching You, I Feel It All Again” Nyquist
Johan “Didn’t We Almost Have it All” Franzen
Luke “When Love Was All We Had Worth Giving” Glendening
Marian “The Ride With You Was Worth the Fall, My Friend” Hossa
Pavel “Loving You Makes Life Worth Living” Datsyuk
Steve “The Nights We Held On ‘Til the Morning” Yzerman
Nicklas “You Know You’ll Never Love That Way Again” Lidstrom
Jimmy “The Way You Used to Touch Me Felt So Fine” Howard
Darren “We Kept Our Hearts Together Down the Line” Helm
Henrik “A Moment in the Soul Can Last Forever” Zetterberg
Jonathan “Comfort and Keep Us” Ericsson
Jeff “Help Me Bring the Feeling Back Again” Blashill
Sergei “Didn’t We Have the Best of Times” Fedorov
Petr “When Love Was Young and New” Mrazek
Tomas “Couldn’t We Reach Inside and Find” Jurco
Todd “That World of Me and You? We’ll Never Lose it Again” Bertuzzi
Dan “Cuz Once You Know What Love Is… YOU NEVER LET IT END” Cleary
— PETRELLA

THE FIVE HOLE

  1. GOALIES! Both goaltenders — Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek — played very well in the pre-season in what what Coach Blashill called an open competition for the role of starter. Jimmy Howard always had the inside track because he slid out of Mrs. Howard before Pete cartwheeled out of Mrs. Mrazek, but I’d be shocked if three weeks go by before the entire planet realizes that Petr Mrazek is the better goalie.
  2. NEW BODIES! The Red Wings finally got their right handed defenseman in Mike Green. He’s able to contribute some points, and is able to move the puck out of the zone efficiently, which is a prerequisite for the style of play in Detroit. Brad Richards, who either follows success, or whom success follows, adds another option up the middle, and will allow Zetterberg and Datsyuk to be paired together, if the time comes.
  3. TEENAGER! Waterford native Dylan Larkin forced the organization to buck their trends and has made the opening night roster, and it looks like he’ll get a chance to man the first line. That’s very exciting for all involved, included the fans, who get a young local to cheer for, and who has every bit of talent needed to inject some youthful exuberance onto an aging core. And Dan Cleary was waived on Wednesday. Jasper succinctly sums up our feelings on the matter.
  4. HEALTH! Hey, whattaya know, the Red Wing start the season with a bunch of regulars on injured reserve. Pavel Datsyuk will be out until mid-November, Danny DeKeyser is supposed to be out until early November, Darren Helm might be set to return next week, assuming his concussion and shoulder calm down. What, you didn’t think we’d be able to get rid of a drill sergeant coach, a once-useful knee-less veteran, AND Piet Van Zant all at once, did you?
  5. YOUTH! We say it all the time, but the young players really opened some eyes in the pre-season. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that wouldn’t agree that Tyler Bertuzzi, Andreas Athanasiou, and even Anthony Mantha did quite a bit to make some other guys expendable in the coming months and years. Obviously Zetterberg and Datsyuk aren’t going anywhere, but there will have to be some decisions made with some of the other guys, thanks to the guys below Larkin on the depth chart.

Pregame: Maple Leafs @ Red Wings – 10/9

After a long summer with some major moves, the Red Wings are back in action tonight, hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2015-16 home opener.

A familiar face will be behind the Toronto bench, as Mike Babcock jumped ship from Detroit to move on to the Maple Leafs during the offseason. Former Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill now leads the Red Wings.

Blashill isn’t the only new addition to the Wings. Free agent signings Brad Richards and Mike Green will be making their Detroit debuts, as will rookie Dylan Larkin, who impressed enough during the preseason to not just make the opening night lineup but earn a spot on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.

Detroit will be without Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm, and Danny DeKeyser due to injury. Helm could be back next week while neither Datsyuk nor DeKeyser is expected to return until November.

With Datsyuk out, Richards will center the second line with Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. Kyle Quincey will replace DeKeyser as Green’s defense partner.

Joakim Andersson, Tomas Jurco, and Alexey Marchenko will be healthy scratches for the Red Wings. Xavier Ouellet and Daniel Cleary had been with the team but were assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins yesterday.

Jimmy Howard will get the start in goal for Detroit, with Petr Mrazek scheduled to start tomorrow against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Stupid stat of the day: In the last two decades, the Red Wings have lost only once on October 9. The opponent in that loss? The Toronto Maple Leafs.

Game time is 7:30 PM on FSD and Fox 2 Detroit.

Red Wings Sign Cleary to One-Year Deal

The Detroit Red Wings announced late on Friday the signing of veteran forward Daniel Cleary to a one-year deal.

The contract is reportedly a two-way deal for $950,000. The entire amount of the contract would come off of the Red Wings’ salary cap if Cleary were assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League.

Cleary, 36, is coming off a season that saw him play just 17 games, scoring a goal and an assist while on a contract that paid him $2.5 million.

The deal is reportedly the result of a handshake agreement between Cleary and Detroit general manager Ken Holland two years ago. Supposedly, at the urging of then-head coach Mike Babcock, Holland promised Cleary a series of one-year deals to match the three-year offer he was rumored to be mulling from the Philadelphia Flyers. Such an agreement, however, is expressly forbidden by the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA.

With the signing, the Red Wings now have 20 forwards who would have to clear waivers to be sent to the Griffins to start the season, though two of those players are Andy Miele and Eric Tangradi, who were specifically signed for Grand Rapids. Another, Louis-Marc Aubry, is unlikely to get a shot with the Red Wings. This leaves Cleary, Joakim Andersson, Landon Ferraro, and Mitch Callahan fighting for the final roster spots.

Red Wings Release 2015-16 Schedule

The Detroit Red Wings – along with the rest of the National Hockey League – announced their schedule for the 2015-16 regular season on Thursday.

The Red Wings will open the season at home on October 9, hosting former head coach Mike Babcock and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The next night they’ll be in Raleigh to visit the Carolina Hurricanes for their first of seventeen sets of games on back-to-back nights.

The highlight of the season could be the February 27 visit to Denver, where the Colorado Avalanche will host the Red Wings at Coors Field in the 2016 NHL Stadium Series game. It will mark Detroit’s third outdoor game following the 2009 Winter Classic at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and the 2014 Winter Classic at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Stadium.

Detroit’s first visit to the newest arena in the league – Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center, home of the New York Islanders – will be on January 25.

The longest homestand of the season is a six-game set across the end of November and beginning of December. The longest road trip is also six games, with visits to Buffalo, New Jersey, San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Arizona to start 2016.

The Wings will close out the season visiting the New York Rangers on April 9. All NHL teams will be in action on that day.

Red Wings Round Out Coaching Staff

Two weeks after naming Jeff Blashill as the team’s 27th head coach, the Detroit Red Wings rounded out their coaching staff with the additions of Pat Ferschweiler and Dave Noel-Bernier.

Tony Granato, who spent last season as an assistant under the since-departed Mike Babcock, will remain with the club, as will goaltending coach Jim Bedard. Additionally, former Red Wing Chris Chelios will work with the team’s defensemen, though he will not have a role behind the Detroit bench.

Ferschweiler and Granato will be Blashill’s assistants with Ferschweiler taking the spot of Jim Hiller, who left with Babcock for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Noel-Bernier will replace Andrew Brewer – who also followed Babcock to Toronto – as the team’s video coach.

Ferschweiler and Noel-Bernier both spent last season as assistants under Blashill with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Blashill Named Red Wings’ Head Coach

The Detroit Red Wings made it official on Tuesday, naming Jeff Blashill as the 27th head coach in team history.

Blashill’s hiring had been expected since former head coach Mike Babcock left to take over the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 20. The Red Wings didn’t want to announce anything with Blashill still coaching the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs.

The Griffins were eliminated by the Utica Comets in the Western Conference Finals a week ago, paving the way for Tuesday’s press conference.

Blashill coached Grand Rapids for three seasons, leading them to a Calder Cup Championship in his first year with the team in 2013. In that time, the Griffins compiled a 134-71-23 record and never finished lower than second in the Midwest Division.

Prior to taking over the Griffins, Blashill spent one year as an assistant to Babcock with the Red Wings. A former collegiate goalie for Ferris State, Blashill got his coaching start as an assistant with the Bulldogs before moving on to the Miami Redhawks for six seasons. Blashill got his first head coaching job with the USHL’s Indiana Ice in 2008-09 and led them to a Clark Cup Championship in his first year. For the 2010-11 season he jumped to the Western Michigan Broncos, taking them to the CCHA Championship game.

In replacing Babcock, Blashill becomes Detroit’s first new head coach in ten years.

With assistant coaches Jim Hiller and Andrew Brewer following Babcock to Toronto and Tony Granato turning down the optional year on his contract, Blashill has a blank slate to work with behind the bench in Detroit, though Granato may yet return.