Admittedly, it’s a lot easier said than done to move Petr Mrazek and get a backup goaltender that can take some of the load off of Jack Campbell‘s shoulders. That said, the way things are going, it’s only a matter of time before Campbell starts in one too many games, suffers an injury, or his production starts to decline because he’s being overplayed by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
No doubt, Campbell has been an MVP-caliber netminder this season. He’s played in 13 games, has a goals-against-average of 1.82, and a save percentage of .939. Meanwhile, Mrazek has struggled to stay healthy all season. After signing with the Maple Leafs this offseason, he’s played all of five periods as a Leaf and been injured twice, now out with a serious groin issue. The backup options in Toronto aren’t terribly attractive and GM Kyle Dubas is in a real pickle when it comes to the team’s salary cap situation.
As Steve Simmons of The Toronto Sun writes:
…the Leafs are so uncomfortable with the choice that they’re actually going to rotate fellow minor-leaguers Joseph Woll and Erik Kallgren in some kind of platoon system for the backup goalies. An ideal situation this isn’t.source – ‘SIMMONS: Gamble on Mrazek paying no dividends for Maple Leafs’ – Steve Simmons – Toronto Sun – 11/09/2021
Overworking Campbell is a Real Concern
There’s a reason most teams like to have a 1A and 1B goaltender. It’s a tough gig when you ask a starter to play in 65 or more games in a season. Add playoffs to the mix — something the Maple Leafs are banking on — and you’ve got a situation where it’s lights out if the starting goalie goes down or his play starts to decline.
The Maple Leafs don’t have much of a choice but to make Campbell the second-most played goalie in the NHL — soon to be the first with Jake Allen going down. Without Mrazek, their backup situation is bleak. Michael Hutchinson has not played well enough to earn the confidence of the coaching staff and Toronto wasn’t expecting to rush Woll into the NHL, only having been forced to do thanks to Hutchinson’s play and Mrazek’s injuries.
Erik Kallgren is an option, and he’s performed well with the Marlies, but offering up an opportunity to an unproven NHL netminder is not necessarily the best plan for a Maple Leafs’ team who is still often fighting for two points every night.
As Jonas Siegel of The Athletic writes:
If Campbell keeps playing this well, the Leafs will be hard-pressed to keep him out of the net, especially if the alternatives remain the same. Still, they need to ensure the wheels don’t come off, that Campbell doesn’t suffer an injury or see his performance slip from overwork.source – ‘Monday Morning Leafs Report: Can the Leafs avoid overworking their early season MVP Jack Campbell?’ Jonas Siegel – The Athletic – 11/15/2021
Mrazek Proving to Be a Poor Choice
The Maple Leafs invested in a healthy Mrazek and he’s been anything but. The team needs a bonafide backup, and Mrazek being out until December (at the earliest) might not be it, even when he eventually returns.
Health issues aside, the term and dollar to which the Leafs signed Mrazek is already proving to be problematic. At the very least, he’s the salary cap floor for Campbell whose stock continues to rise. Undoubtedly, Campbell’s people will look at the $3.8 million Mrazek makes and know their man is worth far more.
Some will argue the Leafs should have seen this coming, but they made a terrible call and took a huge risk when they elected to sign Mrazek, who was no more healthy than their perceived health concerns surrounding Frederik Andersen. Mrazek has been known over this career as a player who has struggled with injuries. As Simmons writes, “He isn’t delicate, but he’s close to that.”
The club is paying for it now and if they can move on, they should try. Get rid of a player who doesn’t look like he can stay healthy and move an asset that is going to cause more salary cap issues than his contract and being on this roster solves.
Can the Maple Leafs Move Mrazek?
The bad news is, there’s not much the Maple Leafs can do while Mrazek is out. No team will want to touch his contract with a 10-foot pole and many teams will see what the Maple Leafs didn’t when it comes to his health. But, when Mrazek does return, it might be time Dubas considers making a swap, if a team is willing and if Mrazek can go on a bit of run when he’s injury-free.
First, the Maple Leafs need to work around the 10-team no-trade clause Mrazek has. From there, Dubas needs to find a taker who has bigger, longer-term needs.
It’s a long shot, but the Anaheim Ducks might be an option if they embrace a full rebuild. They have cap space to weaponize and will likely need a netminder if they move John Gibson as part of their roster changeover. Perhaps the Chicago Blackhawks move Marc-Andre Fleury to a contender with cap space and consider rethinking their retool. Vegas seems to treat the salary cap like a suggestion and not a rule. It’s always worth giving them a call. If Darcy Kuemper doesn’t stick in Colorado, the Avs will need someone. There may be more options, many of them aren’t likely.
It’s not an easy position for Dubas to be in and there may not be a simple solution. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking at.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”