Deals with Mrazek, DeKeyser could put Wings over cap

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Goalie Petr Mrazek is asking for $5 million a season the next two years.

Detroit — With arbitration looming this week for Petr Mrazek and Danny DeKeyser, the Red Wings could face more personnel choices before the start of the season to remain under the salary cap.

GM Ken Holland said Monday that the Wings and DeKeyser are close to a deal for one season. But both sides would like to agree to something longer for the 26-year-old defenseman, signed as a free agent out of Western Michigan in 2012.

The Wings and Mrazek are far apart, with about $2 million reportedly separating them, and Mrazek having filed for arbitration.

With about $3.2 million to $3.8 million currently available to the Red Wings under the salary cap, if both players achieve their likely market value either in continuing negotiations Tuesday and Wednesday or arbitration, the payroll could be about $2 million to $3 million over the cap.

To reduce it, they could send players earning $950,000 or less to Grand Rapids. Also, a small window to buy out a roster player will reopen for the Wings because players have requested arbitration.

Or, they could make a trade.

All NHL teams must submit a roster in the days before their first regular-season game that complies with the salary cap of $73 million.

Asked if he is confident the Wings first arbitration since 1995 can be avoided in both cases, Holland said, “You never know until you agree to a deal.

“The Mrazek arbitration is schedule for 9 a.m. Wednesday morning in Toronto. We both filed our briefs and where we see the salary at.

“They are requesting two-year award,” he said.

“Between now and Wednesday morning, we can continue to negotiate.”

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet and the CBC reported Monday that Mrazek is seeking about $5 million for each year, and the Red Wings are offering $2.75 million and $3.15 million.

Holland declined to discuss those specifics.

By the end of last season it was clear the Wings might have $10 million worth of goalies on their roster, with a salary cap of $73 million. And it looks as though that may be the result.

Jimmy Howard is due $5.5 million this season, $5 million next season and $4.25 million in 2018-19, the last year of his contract.

Mrazek, who earned about $737,000 last season, challenged Howard for the top spot and eventually prevailed.

From late December through mid-February, Mrazek arguably was the best goaltender in the NHL. When he subsequently stumbled, the Wings switched to Howard. But Mrazek finished the season in net, starting the last three games of the playoffs in the five-game elimination by the Lightning.

Mrazek, 24, compiled a 2.33 goals-against average and .921 save percentage and playing in 54 of the 82 regular-season game.

He had a 1.36 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in three playoff games.

Holland said he and the agent handling the negotiations for Mrazek, Don Meehan, are in frequent contact.

“We talked late last week, we’ll talk later, again, today,” Holland said Monday. “We’ll see how today goes, and whether we talk tomorrow.

“I think both sides feel better when the two of you come to a solution, rather than an independent arbitrator.”

The market seems to support something in the neighborhood of $4 million to $5 million for Mrazek.

DeKeyser made $2.5 million last season, and the market suggests he is likely to command in excess of $4 million per season.

The arbitration was requested by DeKeyser and is set for Thursday.

“I think we have a pretty good understanding of what a one-year award looks like, from both sides,” Holland said. “Ideally, we’d like to negotiate a longer-term deal.

“We’ve got ourselves a little time to do that. We’ll see.”

In the NHL, arbitrators can award an amount equal to what either side recommends, or any value in between.

After acquiring forward Franz Nielsen of the Islanders, Thomas Vanek of the Wild, and Steve Ott of the Blues in free agency, the Red Wings have a disproportionate number of forwards.

They still lack their major personnel priority for the offseason, however: a top-pair defenseman with considerable offensive skill.

Holland said he is open to a trade, but many teams are in pursuit of highly ranked, offensive defensemen and not many are available.

He also said that while a buyout remains a possibility, he would prefer not to do one.

“When you start buying out people, you have a bunch of money tied up and you can’t put the player on the ice,” Holland said.

“How much better is the player you bring in? If he is only marginally better than the one you buy out, with the cost of the buyout, you’re not ahead of the game.”

The Wings current plans are to force players such as Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha and others to compete for jobs with veterans in training camp in late September, hoping they lift their performances.

If in September or the first few months of the season the young ones prove their NHL worth, the Red Wings may be in a position to work a trade.

“We’ve tried to collect a lot of players so we have lots of depth,” Holland said. “If this player or that one does not work out, we have fallback positions.

“And if you have that and all of a sudden if something comes available, we are all in.

“If all those things look good on September 29, now we’re in a position to do something.”