Unrestricted free agency hasn’t officially gotten under way yet, but as we all know, that doesn’t stop NHL teams from getting to work. The Maple Leafs have done just that, signing netminder Petr Mrazek to a three-year deal that carries an annual average value of $3.8 million per season, according to reports from Kevin Weekes and Frank Seravalli.
The news comes, rather hilariously, as we hear that Frederik Andersen is likely to head to the Carolina Hurricanes, making this a pseudo-trade of goaltenders between the two organizations. The 29-year-old Mrazek comes into the Leafs organization after three years with the Hurricanes, having previously played for the Philadelphia Flyers for half a season, and the Detroit Red Wings for two cups of coffee and three and a half full seasons.
Through 277 career games, Mrazek has posted a record of 129-97-31, a goals against average of 2.61, and a 0.910 save percentage; all very respectable, low-starter to high-backup numbers, which is about what the Leafs are looking for. In his three seasons with Carolina, Mrazek was above the 0.900 line every time, and saved a total of about 4.2 goals above league average in 92 games. This season was his best statistically, with a 0.923 save percentage and 4.5 GSAA in just 12 games – injuries, a shorten schedule, and the rise of Alex Nedeljkovic limited his own minutes.
Most impressively, over his time in Carolina, Mrazek saved 18.5 goals more than the expected goals than he faced, which ranks him fourth in the NHL in that respect behind Robin Lehner, Connor Hellebucyk, and Ben Bishop. Much of this is driven by his 0.847 save percentage on high-danger shots at 5v5, ranked 7th in the league in that span. There is some concern about his penalty kill numbers, which are in the mediocre-to-bad range, but other Carolina netminders have been in a similar boat while shorthanded – perhaps a hint at systemic flaws.
All of this is to say that the upside is pretty high here – there’s a lot in the numbers to suggest that Mrazek may be a little more than just pretty good, and if not, the floor is pretty stable. The injuries he suffered last season are a slight concern, but that fact that the most severe of the two wasn’t in a high-risk part of his body (his thumb) likely avoids a decline risk. All the same, it makes sense to be a bit cautious with his workload until you know for sure where he’s at.
The plan here appears to be for Mrazek to be the 1B netminder to Jack Campbell’s 1A – a good bet given that while the latter was fantastic in his role last season, he’s yet to play a full year as a starter at the NHL level, and hasn’t always been as good as he was even in a sheltered role. This way, Toronto rolls two netminders who can play like a starter for stretches of time, minimizing their risk of an extended slump by being able to switch up their roles and schedules if need be. While the $3.8 million AAV is a little more than I expected for Mrazek, it fits the bill of the three year contract that he received. For me, that’s the sweet spot for a non-elite goaltender; more than a year so you can get gains if you find a match, but not a long enough term to hurt you significantly if you miss. At a total cap hit of $5.45 million for the the tandem, the Leafs have a cost-effective duo in between the pipes for at least the next year.
With the signing tucked in, this leaves Toronto with about $5.8 million remaining to add three or so depth skaters. Michael Bunting and Josh Ho-Sang are both expected to sign with the team today, along with some AHL depth – it’ll be interesting to see where else they go with the space.