Detroit — Last summer Petr Mrazek was the Red Wings’ starting goaltender and appeared capable of keeping that position into the next decade.
Today, Mrazek’s future with the Red Wings is very uncertain.
The Red Wings and the 29 other NHL teams released their protected lists on Sunday for the expansion draft and there was one minor surprise on Detroit’s.
The organization decided to protect goaltender Jimmy Howard rather than Mrazek.
Howard is eight years older (33-25), has two years left on his contract at $5.29 million per season (Mrazek has one year, at $4 million), and has been injury-prone.
But Mrazek’s erratic play in the last year — in May’s world championships, the Czech Republic decided to go with a Czech League goalie in the quarterfinals rather than Mrazek — gave the Red Wings pause.
General manager Ken Holland was unavailable for comment Sunday.
As Holland said last week, the Red Wings went with the 7-3-1 formula for their protected list — seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie.
As expected, Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green and Nick Jensen are protected on defense, while Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Henrik Zetterberg are the forwards protected.
The expansion Golden Knights will publicly make their selections known Wednesday during the NHL Awards Show in Vegas.
That leaves players such as Mrazek; defensemen Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul; and forwards Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, Tomas Nosek and Riley Sheahan unprotected.
But it’s Mrazek’s future that will be speculated on until Wednesday’s Golden Knights’ roster is revealed.
Mrazek never could get on a positive roll in Detroit last season, and his 3.04 GAA and .901 SVS were among the lowest of any starting goalie.
Howard (2.10 goals-against average, .927 save percentage) was outstanding through the regular season, though he did miss three months with a knee injury.
In fact, when Howard was out with that sprained knee, Mrazek had difficulty maintaining the No. 1 job from Jared Coreau, who was promoted from Grand Rapids.
Mrazek could tempt the Golden Knights, who could team Mrazek with the anticipated selection of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who was left unprotected by Pittsburgh.
But more likely, the Golden Knights would simply flip Mrazek to a team that reaches out to them, asks Vegas to select Mrazek, and works out a trade with the Golden Knights for Mrazek.
Teams such as Vancouver, Arizona, Philadelphia, Colorado and St. Louis might be in the market for a goaltender who can split the workload – or be a quality backup.
Teams can negotiate trades with Vegas until Wednesday at 8 a.m. in an effort to keep the Golden Knights from selecting certain unprotected players.
But Holland said last week he is not interested in making those side deals with Vegas.
Holland, though, is open to the possibility of asking Vegas to select an unprotected player (likely a puck-moving defenseman) and working out a trade afterward.
If not Mrazek, judging from speculation around the Golden Knights, Sheahan or Ouellet appear to be the two most popular picks by the expansion team.
Sheahan, 25, struggled through a miserable season, scoring his only two goals on the final day of the regular season.
But his size (6-foot-3, 220-pounds), contract (one year left at $2.075 million, and he is only a restricted free agent in 2018), and potential would appear to be a perfect fit for an expansion team.
Ouellet, 23, doesn’t play a flashy style, but is a dependable two-way defenseman who also showed a willingness to protect teammates.
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