Petr Mrazek has struggled mightily for the Red Wings this season, and that’s going to make Detroit GM Ken Holland’s decision about the future of his crease all the more difficult.
Before the season started, the Detroit Red Wings’ goaltending situation was a no-brainer. Veteran netminder Jimmy Howard had done his part, but with a sizeable cap hit and diminishing play, his time was up. Howard’s younger counterpart, Petr Mrazek, was the starter of both the present and the future, inked to a two-year, $8-million extension. It seemed like only a matter of time — be it by trade or by expansion draft — that Howard would find himself with a new home.
A lot can change over the course of a few months, however.
Though Howard has spent nearly a month on the sideline, he was, through the early part of the season, the lone bright spot for a Red Wings team more destined to finish with a shot at the first overall pick than at keeping their post-season streak alive. Across his 17 games, he posted a 1.96 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and, of goaltenders who have seen at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5, Howard ranks sixth with a .936 SP.
Meanwhile, Mrazek, the Red Wings’ expected goaltender of the future, has looked like anything but. Through 25 appearances, he has an unsightly .893 SP and 3.19 goals-against average, and in six of his 21 starts, he’s finished the game with a sub-.850 SP. Among the same grouping of netminders as Howard, Mrazek ranks 43rd out of 49 goaltenders with a .909 SP at 5-on-5. Those are far from starter calibre numbers.
The wildcard in all of this has been that with Howard out and Mrazek struggling, the Red Wings have turned to 25-year-old Jared Coreau, who has been their undisputed best option in goal as of late. An undrafted goaltender out of the NCAA’s Northern Michigan University, Coreau played his way into a job as an ECHL starter with the Toledo Walleye in 2013-14, turned that into an AHL starting gig by 2015-16 and has now gotten the call in seven of the past 11 games in Howard’s absence. Over that time, Coreau’s .915 SP and 2.48 GAA are leagues ahead of the .868 SP and 3.70 GAA Mrazek is sporting, and that’s not to mention the two shutouts Coreau has posted along the way.
All of this poses a major question for Detroit moving forward, too, and that’s how to approach their goaltending situation come this off-season because, no matter what, something has to give. The choice for GM Ken Holland won’t be an easy one, either, with pros and cons for each netminder he currently has in his stable.
When it comes to Howard, the clearcut veteran of the group, Holland will no doubt take a look at what the netminder has done for the team this season. Were it not for Howard, the minuscule glimmer of hope the Red Wings have at making something that even resembles a run up the standings would have been snuffed out by the time December rolled around. He’s got the experience in goal and has proven in several seasons that he can be an average-or-better starter in Detroit.
What works against Howard, though, is that his game has been littered with inconsistency over the past several years. His best seasons, with .920-plus SPs in 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2016-17, have bookended a three-year period in which he boasted an average SP of .909. And even when he has been at the top of his game, Howard has battled injury, missing 47 games in the past six seasons. Six of those absences have been knee or groin related, which has to be somewhat worrisome. None of this is to mention that Howard’s $5.292-million cap hit is the biggest reason many saw him as the odd-man out in the Detroit crease. It was too much money and too much term, with another two seasons remaining after 2016-17, for a goaltender who had been mediocre in the run up to this season.
As for Mrazek, the worry comes in understanding which goaltender the Red Wings are going to get. There have been two versions of Mrazek, and the current one isn't the one Holland or the Red Wings faithful had hoped they'd see this season. Rather, the hope was they'd be getting the Mrazek who stood on his head for a two-month period from December 2015 to February 2016, posting a 13-6-1 record, .942 SP and three shutouts in 21 games. Instead, he's been more like the Mrazek who went 6-6-1 with a .886 SP in his final 16 appearances during the 2015-16 regular season and lost the starting job to start the post-season. Mrazek has dealt with a continuation of his struggles from the end of the past season, though it could simply be a matter of the 24-year-old netminder trying to regain his confidence after having it shaken.
Regardless of the play in goal, Mrazek holds a decided edge when it comes to cap management. He’s nearly $1.3-million cheaper than Howard and comes off the books following the 2017-18 campaign. For a Detroit team that’s projected to have a mere $4.653-million in cap space at season’s end, any extra spending money under the cap could be huge. Right now, though, Mrazek is effectively a third-string netminder behind Coreau and Howard, whenever he's able to return. Is that enough to have Holland and the Red Wings' brass change their mind when it comes to Mrazek as the future in goal?
As far as the lock to stick around in Detroit, the only option in that regard is really Coreau. His $612,500 cap hit makes him a no-brainer for the backup role, especially if he can continue to push the starting netminder, be it Mrazek or Howard, with his own exceptional play. It’s not as if there’s a bluechip prospect on the way that will push Coreau out of the way, either. None of the 10-best prospects in the Detroit system are netminders, and unless there’s a dynamite signing to shore up the goaltending, Coreau looks like the best thing the Red Wings have going in terms of strong, second-string goaltending down the road. Even if he’s a flash in the pan who fizzles out at some point soon, Detroit would likely only be looking for him to be a serviceable backup next season.
The solution, of course, likely still lies in playing to the cap and hoping Mrazek turns it around. Despite what Howard has done this season, the Red Wings aren’t going to do all that much with top-tier goaltending, even if that’s what Howard winds up providing wherever he goes next. If Mrazek has difficulty again in the starting role next season or there are down years due to poor goaltending, the Red Wings can look at other options for the future. For the time being, though, Detroit’s a team in transition and it serves the organization better to put their faith in the pair of Mrazek and Coreau, hoping one or both push for the starting job and lay claim to the crease when the time comes for the Red Wings to contend again.
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Thomas Vanek is having a career resurgence in Detroit and as a free agent in July, he could be an attractive option for contenders looking for forward depth.
Left winger Thomas Vanek was a hot property in 2013-14. In a significant (and nowadays, rare) early-season trade, he was shipped on Oct. 29, 2013 by the Buffalo Sabres to the New York Islanders. At the March 5, 2014 trade deadline, Vanek was dealt by the Islanders to the Montreal Canadiens.
Vanek's stock has tumbled since then. Following two disappointing seasons with the Minnesota Wild, he was bought out of his contract last summer and inked a one-year, $2.6-million deal with the Detroit Red Wings.
With the Red Wings falling further out of playoff contention this season, Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News speculates they could become sellers by the March 1 trade deadline. He believes Vanek could once again attract interest in the trade market.
Despite missing 11 games earlier this season with hip and groin injuries, the 32-year-old is putting up good offensive numbers. With 12 goals and 30 points in 33 games, he's on pace for 25 goals and 65 points. The last time he saw those numbers was during his well-travelled 2013-14 campaign.
Vanek does have a reputation for inconsistency, especially in the post-season. But with his solid play thus far, his affordable contract and eligibility for unrestricted free agency in July, he could be an affordable rental player for teams seeking scoring depth at the deadline.
If the Wings decide to put Vanek on the trade block, perhaps the Ottawa Senators will express some interest. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reported last Thursday that Senators GM Pierre Dorion continues his search for forward depth. He's seeking someone who can have an immediate impact under coach Guy Boucher.
Dorion's finding the pickings slim so far in the trade market. Garrioch claims only the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche can be considered sellers right now.
While Dorion said he's not fussy over the type of forward he gets, a scoring left winger likely tops his list. The Sens are among the bottom third in goals-for per game (2.49). That lack of production is jeopardizing their chances of securing a playoff berth.
TSN's Frank Seravalli believes the Senators lack sufficient assets to land a top-line left winger. He speculates once-promising forwards Curtis Lazar and Nick Paul could be trade bait. With this year's draft considered a shallow one for talent, Seravalli wonders if Dorion might consider shopping his first-round pick.
Oft-concussed left winger Clarke MacArthur is expected to return to the Senators' lineup by the end of January. He could provide them with an offensive boost, though concerns over his health will linger over the rest of the season.
COULD JETS SHOP A GOALIE?
The Winnipeg Jets are once again struggling to remain in playoff contention in the Western Conference. Goaltending continues to be their Achilles heel. The tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson have allowed 3.06 goals-against per game, ranking among the league's worst.
Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos observes the Jets current goalie setup isn't working. On Tuesday, they recalled former starter Ondrej Pavelec from their AHL affiliate. Kypreos speculates they could move Hutchinson. He said the San Jose Sharks had some interest in the 26-year-old earlier this season.
The Sharks, however, seem to be making do thus far with Aaron Dell as their backup. He's won four of his six starts, with a 1.96 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. Hutchinson may have more experience than Dell, but his performance this season (4-10-3 record, 3.23 GAA, .894 SP) won't tempt the Sharks.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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P.K. Subban and Jaromir Jagr
The Breakaway Challenge is no more, but the often ridiculous event at the skills competition offered up some fantastic moments and great laughs. Take a look back at the five best attempts.
The highlight of the NBA’s all-star weekend, almost without fail, is the Slam Dunk Contest. The event has delivered moments like Michael Jordan’s foul line dunk, Vince Carter’s forearm in the rim jam and last season’s phenomenal showdown between Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine.
It would only make sense then that the NHL would try its hand at imitating the event, creating the Breakaway Challenge as its version of the dunk competition. The goal was simple: wow the crowd with incredible displays of puckhandling or win them over with props and creativity. Most players went for the latter, and it’s been one of the more ridiculous and comical events at the all-star weekend over the past six skills competitions.
However, after its six-season run as one of the weekend’s events, the NHL has decided to do away with the Breakaway Challenge, according to Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos. The news only a couple of weeks before the league is set to head to Los Angeles for the All-Star Game and is at least a slight indication that some new competitions could be part of the format.
With the Breakaway Challenge no more, though, let’s take a look back at five of the very best and most memorable moments from the contest:
5. Johansen gets some help, but Voracek one-ups him
Ryan Johansen had the Columbus crowd in the palm of his hands by using an Ohio State jersey as a prop, and he really got the crowd on its feet by getting a youngster to help bury a shot. It was a great moment, for sure, but Jakub Voracek really got the crowd laughing by stealing Johansen’s idea with the help of another kid on hand: diminutive Flames star Johnny Gaudreau.
4. Ovechkin is the new Captain Canada
If this is the end of the Breakaway Challenge for good, then Alex Ovechkin will go down as the greatest participant the competition has ever had. He won the first ever event in 2008 and with the chance to defend his crown in 2009, he pulled out all the stops, getting a hand from fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin and endearing himself to the Montreal crowd with an interesting choice of headwear.
3. The transformation of Burns
It almost doesn’t matter which team you support when it comes to Brent Burns. He’s an absolute stud on the blueline for the Sharks, he’s one of the most exciting players in the game, he’s got a unique love of animals and he has a Harry Potter tattoo. That last one will only please a certain generation of fan, but it’s indicative of the personality he brings. Burns also isn’t afraid to make light of his grizzled appearance, and he pulled off the perfect gag at the 2016 All-Star Game.
2. SuperKane takes center stage in Ottawa
Ovechkin was the king of the Breakaway Challenge for three straight All-Star Games, and it took a superhuman performance by Patrick Kane for someone to finally take the crown from the ‘Great 8.’ Kane went prop heavy with his attempts, but the clever use of an “exploding” puck was really the topper.
1. Subban pays tribute to greatness
As he continues his career well into his 40s, Jaromir Jagr’s status as one of the game’s most beloved players grows, and that seemingly goes for both players and fans alike. So, how do you win over an entire crowd and one of the greatest players the game has ever seen in one breakaway attempt? Well, you throw on a mullet, a Jagr jersey, some Cooperalls and cap it off with a salute.
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We'll find out next Tuesday whether teams in the Ontario and Western Leagues will have to make their financials public.
Canadian Hockey League president David Branch has often publicly stated that people don’t get into the junior hockey business to make money. He has also said that about one-third of the teams make money, one-third break even and one-third lose money and those teams are interchangeable based on where they are in their franchise-building cycle.
We have a pretty good idea that the owners of teams such as the London Knights and Quebec Remparts (which are owned by Quebecor, the company that owns The Hockey News) make gobs of money, but nobody really knows how much. We’re also pretty sure that small markets such as Swift Current, Owen Sound and Baie Comeau face some pretty stiff and unique financial challenges, but we have no idea to what extent. We also know that, judging by the ticket prices and beer lines, the World Junior Championship is a major cash cow for the CHL, even when it’s bungled as badly as it recently was in Toronto and Montreal, since the junior leagues get one-third of the profits. We also know that franchises in the CHL are bought and sold for millions of dollars. We know that the Sudbury Wolves were purchased by Ken Burgess in 1986 for $250,000 and the team and its marketing arm were sold for about $11 million last summer, meaning it appreciated in value by about 4,400 percent in 30 years.
We know the players are paid a relative pittance for their work in addition to having their room and board covered by the teams. The CHL often crows about its scholarship program, claiming that it pays out millions of dollars per year to assist former players with their post-secondary education.
That’s pretty much all we know. And if the CHL has its way, that’s all we’ll ever know. Because when it comes to actually opening its books and proving to people that junior hockey is by and large a Mom and Pop operation, well, that’s where the flow of information is reduced to a trickle.
The question is why? If junior hockey leagues are so quick to claim that having to pay its players minimum wage would cause financial calamity, why do they not want their financial information to be part of the public discourse?
But the hundreds of players who hope to launch a class action lawsuit against the CHL want to change that. Next Tuesday, the two sides will argue before R.J. Hall, a Justice of the Alberta Court of the Queen’s Bench in Calgary, the CHL’s motion to have a sealing order placed over all financial records, scholarship data and revenue sharing agreements for the 42 teams in the OHL and Western League. The CHL was ordered to turn over that information last October as part of the class action lawsuit brought against the WHL for minimum wage.
The documents were filed as part of a certification hearing that’s scheduled to be held in Calgary in February. Once those documents are filed in court, they become a matter of public record unless they are sealed by court order and the CHL wants them to be sealed. “That way no one will have access to them except the judge and parties to the litigation,” said Toronto lawyer Ted Charney, who represents the plaintiffs. “I don’t want to comment on the merits of the motion because it’s coming up in court next week. All I can tell you is we intend to oppose it.”
The CHL originally argued back in October that only the WHL teams for which the plaintiffs played should have to submit their financials. But Justice Hall ordered all 22 WHL teams to provide the information, as well as the 20 teams in the OHL, since the defendants chose to file affidavits from the OHL, arguing that paying minimum wage would have the same adverse effects to OHL teams and, by extension, the entire CHL.
This is all very important to the future of the case because this is evidence that will be used in the certification hearing, at which time Justice Hall will decide whether or not the lawsuit merits being considered a class-action lawsuit. If he decides it does, hundreds of former players who have registered to join the lawsuit would be included. If not, the lawsuit will be restricted to the handful of former players who have come forward.
And if Justice Hall decides next week that two-thirds of the junior hockey operators in Canada must live with their books being open for the public to see, then perhaps we’ll have a better idea whether the former players have a case or Canada’s junior leagues would actually be crippled by having to pay their players minimum wage.