Come Wednesday, Detroit Red Wings netminder Petr Mrazek is likely to become the first player with a scheduled arbitration hearing to actually head to the hearing to settle on a new deal.
Mrazek, 24, will enter arbitration as the goaltender of the Red Wings’ future. He’s already been said to be the No. 1 as the season approaches, and this coming from GM Ken Holland before he’s even locked up the Czech netminder to a new deal. The issue, however, will be that the two sides aren’t just a few dollars apart, but rather have a $4 million gap in what they’ve deemed a reasonable salary going forward.
According to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, Mrazek’s camp is asking that Detroit pay him like the No. 1 goaltender he projects to be on a two-year, $10-million contract. The Red Wings countered with a two-year deal worth $2.7 million in the first season and $3.15 million the next. The likely scenario is that the arbitrated salary lands somewhere in the middle, but which side of middle it falls on is going to have an impact on the Red Wings roster as the off-season continues.
With Tuesday’s signing of Danny DeKeyser to a six-year, $30-million contract, the Red Wings are officially over the salary cap. The DeKeyser signing puts Detroit roughly $239,000 over the $73-million limit, according to CapFriendly, and the only relief that appears to be in sight is that which will come when Johan Franzen is placed on long-term injured reserve when the season begins. That’s an unfortunate enough cap situation to be in, but not one that’s unsolvable with a bit of shuffling. However, things get much more difficult with Mrazek’s arbitration on the horizon.
On the Red Wings’ suggested deal, Mrazek’s cap hit would be a palatable $2.925 million. Combine that with the overage, and the Red Wings are $3.164 million over the cap with enough relief on its way via Franzen’s $3.955 million cap hit coming off the books via LTIR. In fact, Detroit’s ask would even give the Red Wings some room to operate, as hard as that may be to believe.
That’s the absolute best-case scenario for the Red Wings, especially with Holland suggesting he might still be looking to add a defenseman. If he can then use the bit of additional salary available plus a package of players to add a rearguard, he can improve his blueline.
However, if Mrazek’s cap hit comes in at his asking price, $5 million per season, Detroit’s in some trouble. Being a combined $5.239 million over the cap wouldn’t allow the Red Wings to simply place Franzen on LTIR and move on, but rather put Detroit in a position where an additional $1.28 million in salary needs to be moved out before the campaign begins.
The bottom-six players falling in that salary range include Joe Vitale, Drew Miller, Dylan Larkin, Tomas Jurco, Teemu Pulkkinen and Steve Ott. Holland’s not dealing Larkin, Vitale’s health may make him difficult to trade and Miller and Ott’s age means they aren’t likely to have many suitors. That leaves Jurco and Pulkkinen as the top trade candidates, but packaging and/or moving both would be the only way to become cap compliant.
The other option is a higher-priced player, and that might have to be the direction Detroit goes. Neither Gustav Nyquist, 26, or Tomas Tatar, 25, carry any clauses that would hinder the Red Wings from making a deal, and both would draw interest were Holland to call around about moving them. Nyquist’s $4.75-million cap hit would give Detroit space to add the defenseman Holland is reportedly after, while Tatar’s $2.75-million cap hit also gives the Red Wings a bit of additional breathing room. That said, trading either might be the worst-case scenario option should the arbitrator rule heavily in Mrazek’s favor.
Should the two sides meet somewhere in the middle, though, that would see Mrazek have a cap hit around $3.95 million. That’s still not great for the Red Wings as it would put them $4.2 million over the cap, but it gives them many more options.
A simple demotion along with placing Franzen on LTIR would be able to clear up the cap problem and make Detroit cap compliant for the start of the campaign. It would mean Holland risks losing a player for nothing, but that’s much easier than having to give up one of the few seasoned scoring threats the team has in order to get back under the cap. Trading a bottom-six forward would still be on the table, too. And if Holland was still looking at moving out a top-six player in order to strengthen his blueline, that option certainly remains.
So as Mrazek heads to arbitration, his hearing is worth keeping an eye on. Whichever way the arbitrator rules will have serious bearing on how the Red Wings operate going forward and it could have an impact on which players are or aren’t in Detroit come October.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.