Detroit — The Red Wings and Petr Mrazek agreed on a new two-year contract that will pay the goalie an average of $4 million per year and avoids what is often a caustic arbitration process.
The deal lands between the Wings’ opening bid that averaged $3 million per year, and Mrazek’s bid of $5 million. A two-year term was determined by the collective bargaining agreement and Mrazek’s request as a restricted free agent.
Saving $1 million means the club likely complies with the $73-million salary cap, if Johan Franzen, newly-acquired Joe Vitale and Teemu Pulkkinen are placed on long term injured reserve before the start of the season, which is likely.
A two-hour breakfast meeting with Mrazek’s agent in Toronto that began before a 9 a.m. arbitration hearing helped the Wings avoid what would have been their second arbitration in 21 years.
The hearings, at which both sides assess the performance and comparative worth of the player while asserting their conflicting positions, sometimes cause fissures. Breakfast is nicer than potential irritation.
“Obviously, it’s good any time you can negotiate a settlement versus going through arbitration, where it’s never a great process in building relationships with your players,” GM Ken Holland said. “It’s not something that’s motivating for the player and motivating for the club.”
Holland said he texted Mrazek’s agent Don Meehan Monday night and the two agreed to meet at 8 a.m.
Mrazek, who was not available for comment, also was on hand.
Two hours into the meal, the deal was done.
“The arbitration was supposed to start at nine, but we were engaged in back-and-forths,” Holland said.
“We made an offer. We had more back-and-forths, and a little after 10 o’clock, we finally came to the solution.”
Mrazek earned $737,500 last season, when he seized the No. 1 spot in net from Jimmy Howard before relinquishing it, then starting again for the last three games of the playoff elimination at the hands of the Lightning.
His new deal, for $3.85 million this season and $4.15 million next season, puts Mrazek in the company of goalies Jonathan Bernier of the Ducks, Cory Schneider of the Devils, Steve Mason of the Flyers and Cam Talbot of the Oilers.
Mrazek’s goals-against average and saves percentage last season and over his a career are comparable to those goaltenders — a bit behind Schneider, about even with Talbot and slightly ahead of Bernier and Mason.
At the end of the deal, Mrazek will remain a restricted free agent.
He and Howard generally shared time in net through about Christmas. Then, and through late February, Mrazek distinguished himself with a performance that was among the best in the league.
But he faded. His footwork and movements in the crease were sometimes out of sync.
Howard played in 11 of the last 12 games.
Filling in during the late stretch drive, Howard helped deliver a playoff spot. But by the third game of the first-round series in which the Red Wings were outperformed by the Lightning, Mrazek was back in.
The signings of Mrazek and of Danny DeKeyser (five years, $30 million on Monday) put the Red Wings $4.2 million-$4.8 million above the salary cap, according to three groups that track the financing of NHL rosters.
But Franzen and Vitale — acquired last month from the Coyotes with the draft pick used to select 18-year-old defenseman Dennis Cholowski, as part of relinquishing Pavel Datsyuk’s contract — continue to suffer from post-concussion symptoms and Pulkkinen is recovering from shoulder surgery.
The Red Wings expect all three to miss at least considerable playing time at the start of the season.
Long term injured reserve allows teams approaching the salary cap to reduce a total, averaged club salary by an amount based on the day the player is declared in reserve. The relief is determined by one of two formulas, one for training camp and the other for the balance of the year.
The Wings appear to have a maximum club salary of $5.8 million among the three players who might go on reserve: Franzen will make $3.5 million next season, with a $3.95 million cap hit. Vitale is due $1.3 million, with a $1.1 million cap hit. Pulkkinen is due $812,500, and the hit is the same.
Because the Red Wings were headed to arbitration with Mrazek and DeKeyser, they also retain the option of making a buyout.
To reduce the club payroll before the start of the regular season if necessary, the Wings could send a player who earns $950,000 or less to Grand Rapids to start the season or make a trade.
Asked if the club now complies with the cap, Holland said, “Not exactly, but sort of, yes.”
“It’s not simple,” Holland said of the date-based injured reserve calculation. “Let’s go to training camp and watch.”
The Wings are anxious to see if young players like Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha and the defenseman Ryan Sproul can push for roster spots, and how some of the veterans will do.