Traverse City — Most everyone in Detroit and around the NHL were surprised when the Red Wings left goaltender Petr Mrazek unprotected in June’s expansion draft.
Mrazek, though, sounded Saturday as if he understood why.
It was a poor statistical season, Mrazek ultimately lost his starting job to Jimmy Howard, and Mrazek’s work ethic was called into question.
“It wasn’t the season I wanted to have,” said Mrazek, who spoke Saturday about his offseason. “I’m happy I’m back. They (the Red Wings) gave me a chance to play in the NHL.
“It’s (last season) over and I’m not going to look back. I’m just looking forward now and I feel ready. It’s a business. The season wasn’t great. So that’s what it is and I’m happy to be back.”
Mrazek wasn’t selected by the expansion Vegas Golden Knights and wasn’t sought out by other teams in the trade market.
So entering the final season of his contract — Mrazek can be a restricted free agent next summer — he returns to the Red Wings with a new mindset, in better physical shape, and ready to return to the level he showed two seasons ago when he was near the top of the NHL statistical categories for much of the winter.
“Every year is important, it doesn’t matter if it’s your contract year or not,” Mrazek said. “Every season you want to be the best.”
Mrazek revamped his offseason training, spending more time in the weight room while tweaking some of his on-ice habits.
“We made a couple of adjustments, a little bit different position so not to be flying in the net,” Mrazek said. “Just stay calm and stop as many pucks as I can.”
Mrazek talked with his goalie coach in the Czech Republic and established more of a routine before and after practice, one of the areas that came into question after last season.
Mrazek met with coach Jeff Blashill before this training camp to clear the air, after the noisy summer.
“I had a good talk with Blash, about what he can expect from me and what I can expect from him,” Mrazek said. “We talked about the offseason and what I did and what we had to work on.
“The conversation went real well.”
Blashill feels Mrazek is poised to have a big rebound season.
“He’s in a great spot,” Blashill said. “When people go through adversity, sometimes it can be a great thing. You learn a lot and you become better in areas.
“Petr is a great kid, he’s always been that, and he’s in position to have success this year.”
Blashill is confident Mrazek has changed his training methods.
“It takes a daily effort to make your game better, and he understands that,” Blashill said. “He changed his training this summer and changed the way he attacks the on-ice portion.”
General manager Ken Holland flew to Toronto Saturday to meet with restricted free agent Andreas Athanasiou and agent Darren Ferris.
Athanasiou has yet to sign a contract for this season and the two sides have been at a stalemate, with training camp approaching its third day.
The Red Wings are offering one- and one-year contracts to Athanasiou — the two-year offer at just under $4 million total — while Athanasiou is also considering offers from Kontinental Hockey League teams in Russia for approximately $3 million for one season.
The KHL season is already underway, though, which makes it unlikely Athanasiou would head overseas.
Ferris expressed some optimism Friday in talks with the Red Wings, saying there have been “productive discussions.”
"Detroit's home. It's where I want to be," said Jimmy Howard, who expected to be left exposed in the expansion draft. David Guralnick, Detroit News
Great phone call
When goaltender Jimmy Howard saw Holland’s phone number calling in late June, Howard had a feeling it was the news Howard was the goalie unprotected in the expansion draft.
When Holland informed Howard it was Howard who was kept protected by the Red Wings, the news meant a lot to Howard.
“Not a clue,” said Howard, as to if he had any advance notice. “I got the phone call on (son) Henry’s third birthday and I thought it was the phone call saying you’re being exposed. But instead, it was about being protected and it was pretty cool.”
Howard didn’t want to leave Detroit or the Red Wings organization.
“It meant a lot,” Howard said. “I’ve been with the organization for so long, Detroit is home for us, my family. My boys were born there and are growing up there.
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall sat out a second consecutive day Saturday, with what Blashill called back spasms.
There’s a good chance Kronwall will not skate here in Traverse City, before the end camp Monday.
“Kroner had a little back spasm today, that’s nothing at all I’m concerned about,” Blashill said. “I’m not sure whether he’ll hit the ice in Traverse or we’ll wait (until returning to Detroit). I don’t think it’s any big deal. We’ll take it day by day.”
Tomas Tatar (shoulder) said he feels completely healthy and appears ready to play in exhibition games after offseason surgery.
…Blashill has been impressed with 2017 first-round draft pick forward Michael Rasmussen, who is headed back to junior hockey in a few days. “He has a real good skill package and his effort level is real good,” Blashill said. “He scored a big-time goal two days ago in practice in a tight area.”
There was some debate from scout regarding Rasmussen’s skating, but Blashill doesn’t feel it’s an issue at all.
“He skates real well for a big guy,” Blashill said. “The question marks about his skating are nonsense. His skating will only get better because of his stride.”