Red Wings goalie on playing well in a seven-round shootout for a 2-1 victory over Sharks. Ted Kulfan
Detroit — Will the Red Wings trade Jimmy Howard? Or Petr Mrazek? Right at the Feb. 26 NHL trade deadline, or before?
And, which teams are even interested?
The questions are becoming more prevalent as the trade deadline approaches — even more so, than for the past 18-24 months.
The Red Wings seemingly have two starting goaltenders and a trade has never materialized, with the Red Wings investing almost $10 million — Howard, one year remaining at $5.29 million and Mrazek, $4 million and can be a restricted free agent July 1 — in the position.
Is the logjam about to be alleviated?
That was an interesting thought Wednesday morning, with news that Mrazek would make his third start in the last four games later against the San Jose Sharks.
Were the Red Wings, in essence, showcasing Mrazek for any interested teams?
“Not for me, not one bit,” said coach Jeff Blashill, of the possibility of showcasing.
In Blashill’s mind, Mrazek was rewarded for a string of good performances.
Mrazek entered Wednesday’s game with 5-5-2 record in 16 total appearances, with a 3.01 goals-against average and .906 save percentage and three shutouts.
Mrazek posted back-to-back shutouts over Chicago (Jan. 14) and New Jersey (Jan. 22) and in the process, put together a career-best 145-minute, 5-second shutout streak.
Mrazek had also won three of his last five decisions (3-1-1) heading into Wednesday, and with the regular season quickly coming to an end, the Red Wings desperately need victories for any dream of making the playoffs.
“Petr’s played pretty well lately, he’s gotten us points,” said Blashill, who in the next breath, stressed his confidence in both goalies. “I have tons of faith in both of them and we’re trying to win hockey games. We want to win tonight’s game and put ourselves in better position to be a playoff team.”
The main issue, when thinking about the trade deadline, is the lack of contending teams with any sort of goaltending issues.
The New York Islanders have been the most obvious candidate in need of a goaltending upgrade, but the Islanders haven’t indicated they’re aggressively looking for a goaltender.
The Islanders, also, are on the cusp of playoff contention and aren’t a lock to make the postseason anyway, which might keep them from being a buyer at the deadline.
Chicago was a team considered a distant possibility of needing goaltending depth, but with starter Corey Crawford (upper body) returning to practice, the Blackhawks likely aren’t going to make a move.
The Red Wings might be content to keep both goaltenders, and particularly with Mrazek.
The organization must make a decision as to whether to keep Mrazek beyond this season or let him go this summer, not qualifying his contract and making him an unrestricted free agent.
The difference between Mrazek earlier this season and the Mrazek of the past few weeks, at least to Blashill, is confidence.
Mrazek’s body language in net early this season appeared to be one of a goalie who was hesitant and unsure.
These days, Mrazek is back to playing with a flair and confidence he was known for two seasons ago.
“When you’re more confident as a goalie, the puck sticks to you a little bit more,” said Blashill, a former goaltender himself. “You play under control, especially him. He plays under control.
“Confidence is a big factor.”
The Red Wings left Mrazek unprotected during last summer’s expansion draft, when the Vegas Golden Knights stockpiled their roster.
But the Golden Knights somewhat surprisingly passed on Mrazek, whose attitude and work ethic were scrutinized and criticized by many in the Red Wings organization.
Since the start of training camp, though, Mrazek has been diligent with his goaltending work and conditioning – before and after practice – while patiently waiting for playing time, as Howard took control of the starting job.
“He’s (Mrazek) worked hard on his game all year, going back to the summer,” Blashill said. “When he hasn’t played, he’s put himself in position to go out and play. He’s done good work with Jeff Salajko, our goalie coach.”