Not half a season has passed since the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Petr Mrazek to a three-year deal for $3.8 million a season. To this point of the season, Mrazek has only played 183 minutes and 37 seconds, or the equivalent of three full games.
Is it too early for Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas to admit that signing Mrazek to that deal in the offseason might have been a mistake?
Signing Mrazek Seemed Logical at the Time
The reasoning behind signing Mrazek was based on logic. The Maple Leafs had no way of knowing if Jack Campbell could keep playing at the level he did last season when he went 17-3-2 in 22 starts, with a .921 save percentage, and a 2.15 goals-against-average.
The organization also wasn’t certain about his stamina over a full season, because he’d never played one. Campbell had never started more than 31 games in any season. Acquiring Mrazek, who has been a capable backup and 1B goalie when healthy, seemed a prudent move at the time. We thought it was.
Now that the team is 35 games into the season, it’s becoming obvious that Campbell is the real thing. Not only has he carried his stellar play this season, but he’s also actually improved upon it. After 27 games, he has an 18-5-3 record, with a .935 save percentage and a 2.02 goals-against-average.
Considering Options for Mrazek
The one big question that Mrazek came with was his health. He’d had problems with injuries throughout his career. Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, such problems seem to have dogged him this season, and he hasn’t been able to put together an adequate body of work in terms of either games or minutes played. To date, he simply has not been able to fill the role the team needed.
One other consideration for the Maple Leafs is Campbell’s expiring contract. Campbell’s value and his importance to the team seem to increase with every start he does, or doesn’t, make. Mrazek’s contract will most likely influence (somewhat at least) what Campbell might ultimately get on his next contract.
For example, one obvious fact is that Campbell would want more money than Mrazek makes. The optics for not doing so would be disastrous.
What Are the Maple Leafs’ Four Options for Mrazek?
Getting back to the question we asked at the start, is it too early for the Maple Leafs to start thinking about their options for Mrazek? We think not.
Here are the four options the Maple Leafs might make about Mrazek.
Option One: Let Things Play Themselves Out
The first option is not to do anything right now. The organization might choose to give the situation time to clarify itself and create its own logic. Given time and space, the decision the Maple Leafs should make might just become obvious.
This option would allow Mrazek a chance to get healthy and hopefully more comfortable in the net. Certainly, Maple Leafs’ fans have not seen Mrazek at his best this season. If the plan works out the way the Maple Leafs had envisioned it, Campbell would get plenty of rest and be in top mental and physical shape heading into the playoffs.
Option Two: Try to Trade Mrazek
The Maple Leafs could seek trade options for Mrazek. We realize the most common reaction to this option might be the question: “How in the heck could you even trade Mrazek with his contract?”
Yet, stranger things have happened. Teams at the bottom of the standings this season will be looking for opportunities to improve their teams for the future. They might be willing to take on Mrazek’s contract as long as there were benefits attached to it.
If Milan Lucic, James Neal, or David Clarkson (twice) can be traded with their albatross-like contracts, Mrazek can be traded. Retaining some of Mrazek’s salary could be an option.
Option Three: Place Mrazek on Waivers
The Maple Leafs could put Mrazek on waivers with the hope of sending him to the Toronto Marlies. If the team chooses this option, it would retain $2,675,000 in salary cap on the books but would clear $1.125,000 of salary-cap space. That, by the way, is the same amount of space it will save if and when Nick Ritchie is sent down.
Two scenarios could happen if the team chooses this option. First, Mrazek could be picked up by another team. Mrazek was a free agent, and the Maple Leafs could promote someone from within or find another free agent. If someone were to grab him off waivers all the better. His salary-cap hit of $3.8 million per season would be gone.
Second, if Mrazek passed through waivers, he could get some starts with the Marlies, work on his game and health, and return to the team in the future. The Maple Leafs would have both the $1.125 million of salary-cap space and any additional salary-cap space they could accrue to give them more options at the trade deadline.
Option Four: Put Mrazek on Waivers for the Purpose of Buying Out His Contract
The team could choose to put Mrazek on waivers for the purpose of buying out his contract. This option might seem a bit extreme, and far from the most ideal scenario.
According to CapFriendly, if the Maple Leafs were to buy out his contract, they’d have to carry the following cap hit for the next two seasons. For the 2022-23 season, they’d retain $1,03,333 for a salary-cap savings of $2,766,667. For the 2023-24 season, they’d retain $ 833,333 for a salary-cap savings of $2,966,667.
However, the problem comes during the 2024-25 and 2025-26 seasons. The team would then have to retain a salary-cap hit of $1,433,333 for both the 2024-25 and the 2025-26 seasons. Hopefully, by then, the salary cap would have increased sufficiently to absorb that hit, but it’s a huge hit nonetheless. It would be lost money that could hinder the team elsewhere.
Although we don’t believe Option Four is a suitable answer, it still is an option to consider.
Signing Petr Mrazek Didn’t Work Out How It Was Supposed To, Now What?
What is becoming clear is that the Maple Leafs aren’t experiencing the benefits the organization believed Mrazek would bring to the team. We have to believe conversations are already going on behind the scenes about the wisest course of action for the team.
We’re not in the same league as the Maple Leafs’ brain trust about what to do; so, obviously, we don’t know everything about every detail. However, we do believe the organization is already exploring its options in regard to Mrazek.
Is something likely to happen soon? That we don’t know.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf