Let’s circle back to mid-February. The Flyers were in the midst of a playoff push and were in some deep trouble. They had just lost their starting goaltender, Brian Elliott, for 5-6 weeks due to surgery, and were without backup Michael Neuvirth, shocker, for the time being as well.
Then something wonderful happened. Ron Hextall struck a deal with Ken Holland and his Detroit Red Wings to acquire young netminder Petr Mrazek in exchange for two mid-round conditional picks. Hextall could have had him about a week or so earlier for just a third rounder, but rejected the offer because Neuvirth was still healthy. With his backup netminder injured once again, Hextall’s back was against the wall, and Holland took advantage.
So Mrazek arrived in Philadelphia and started in the crease just a few days later against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He faced 20 shots and let one past. Not a bad start to his tenure with the Flyers. His next game came two days later against the Ottawa Senators. He faced 8 more shots than previous, allowing two more goals in the process. Not the greatest stat line, but he got the win. Two nights later, he faced off against Montreal, and blanked them. Three games, a .947 save percentage and Flyers Nation was abuzz, singing the praises of Petr Mrazek.
Then reality settled in, taking the form of the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Pittsburgh Penguins. Mrazek fell hard, posting nothing higher than a .886 save percentage in those four games, and allowing 18 goals in that four game span. He rebounded quickly against Winnipeg, but it was short-lived, as he fell right back into his rut against the Vegas Golden Knights just a couple days later. March 15 against Columbus and March 20 against his former team, Detroit, he was pulled in favor of AHL goalie Alex Lyon, who did very well in relief of Mrazek.
If ever there were a microcosm to the Flyers’ season, Petr Mrazek fits the bill.
In a season full of highs and lows, Petr Mrazek is one of the more frustrating aspects of it all. A man who came into the organization highly regarded, young, and full of potential, has laid an egg. I exaggerate. He hasn’t been completely awful, but he has left us wanting more. He has shown glimpses of stellar net play, but has also shown glimpses of just flat-out terrible play.
Looking back at the terms of the deal, both picks dealt for Mrazek are conditional. The fourth round pick turns into a third round pick if the Flyers make the playoffs AND Mrazek wins five regular season games. Mrazek has already won six games, and the Flyers are on the brink of making the playoffs. Third round pick, all-but secured. That third round pick turns into a second round pick if Mrazek wins six games in the playoffs, AND the Flyers make the conference finals. Jury is still out on that one. Finally, if the Flyers re-sign Mrazek at the end of the year, the Flyers owe Detroit an additional third round pick in the 2019 NHL draft.
Those are some conditions, huh?
Mrazek has not been a complete disaster for the Flyers. He has won six games since joining the club, and those are six games that they needed, considering how tight the playoff race in the East has become. However, was it smart to go out and get Mrazek? Alex Lyon split time with him while Elliott and Neuvirth were injured, and when called upon, played well. He came in to relieve Mrazek on two separate occasions, and played incredibly well for coming off the bench. Could the Flyers have acquired a cheaper alternative to Mrazek, and gotten the same level of play?
Curtly, yes, they could have. However, Hextall knew the Flyers were chasing the playoffs. He knew that the Flyers needed a competent person in the crease that could win the games the Flyers needed to win in order to maintain their standing in the division. In 15 games, Mrazek has gotten the Flyers 15 points. Not the most impressive numbers, but not terrible either.
However, you can’t help but wonder how Alex Lyon would have fared for the Flyers if given the keys to the crease. Would it have been different? Could the Flyers have locked up a playoff spot already? We won’t know, and that’s fine, because the Flyers are one win and one Florida Panthers loss away from a playoff berth.
Now is when things get interesting. Brian Elliott is said to be coming back in the next few days, and Michael Neuvirth is sure to follow shortly thereafter. What becomes of Petr Mrazek once the incumbent netminders come back from injury? Mrazek likely won’t get sent down to Lehigh Valley, because he would have to clear waivers. Neuvirth and Elliott won’t get sent down either. Mrazek will likely be the odd man out, and will end up a healthy scratch.
The fact of the matter is that Mrazek hasn’t done enough to take a job away from Elliott especially, and even Neuvirth. Michael Neuvirth, when healthy, has been a better goalie than Mrazek, and has shown flashes of brilliance. Sure, chances are that Neuvy goes down again with an injury. No, that isn’t sarcasm. So the Flyers have three competent goalies on their roster come playoff time, a luxury that most teams don’t have.
Regardless, when assessing the trade at this point in time, Hextall gave up now a third round pick and potentially another third round pick for a third option in net, or a security blanket. It just doesn’t add up. Sure, the Flyers were in dire need of a netminder once their starting and backup goaltenders went down, but Mrazeks wasn’t the best option.
The only solace in this is that the Flyers likely won’t re-sign the streaky Mrazek, therefore not forfeiting their 2019 third round pick. Also, the Flyers traded the rights of prospect Cooper Marody to Edmonton for a third round pick this year, recovering the pick they lost in the Mrazek trade. Aside from the loss of a prospect, the Flyers struck even when putting everything in perspective. However, they wouldn’t have had to recoup the third round pick from Edmonton if they didn’t spend it on Mrazek in the first place.
Yes, Petr Mrazek did help the Flyers win a few games when they were in a pinch. That won’t be forgotten, but when striking the deal, Hextall had to assess the maximum loss of the deal, which was a second rounder this year and a third rounder next year. He knew what he might have to give up, and is now getting back what he spent, which is similar to an admission of fault. Of course, he did what he thought was right for the club at the time, but now looking at the situation, the Flyers might have been able to coast through the stretch without Mrazek and still find themselves in contention for one of the final playoff spots in the east.
Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports