Over the past week-plus, I’ve been taking deep dives into the careers of some of the 2021 UFA goalie cohort, examining why GMs may be keen on signing them and why their current teams may let them reach free agency.
As they say, all good things must come to an end. Has anyone called this series “a good thing”? We’ll leave that question open to interpretation. (Just like the careers of most of these goalies, hey?!)
This will be the penultimate installment. Today, we look into two goalies who are smaller in stature than most of their contemporaries and had their 2020-21 seasons cut short due to injury. Each played only 12 games this season but could provide some upside on his next contract.
Antti Raanta – Arizona Coyotes
When he’s healthy, Antti Raanta is fantastic. The 32-year-old netminder has a career save percentage of .919 and goals-against average of 2.46 in eight NHL seasons. Raanta, who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Finland, made his NHL debut with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013-14. Since then, among 87 goalies who have played at least 50 NHL games, Raanta is tied for eighth in SP (with Carey Price and Corey Crawford) and ninth in GAA.
Raanta spent two years each with Chicago and the New York Rangers before settling in Arizona ahead of 2017-18. And Raanta thrived in Arizona’s defense-first system. His first three years with the Coyotes were not only the best of his career but put him among the league’s elite. In those seasons, he played 92 games, and his .924 SP tied him with teammate Darcy Kuemper for the NHL’s best (min. 25 games). In the ’17-18 season – when he started a career-high 46 games – Raanta led the league in goals-saved above expected. His GSAx mark of 30.1 that season was the seventh-best of the previous decade.
But health is a major concern, and greatly affects his dependability as a top UFA option. Since the start of 2018-19, Raanta has missed 98 regular-season games with injury. He’s also finished each of the past three seasons – including last year’s playoffs – on the shelf. In his eight NHL seasons, he’s started more than 40 games just once and more than 30 games twice. Arizona has played 208 regular-season games since 2018-19, meaning Raanta’s injuries have rendered him unavailable for 47 percent of the schedule. Add in illness, and it's over 50 percent.
Raanta wasn’t on the ice much in 2020-21 but struggled when he was present, posting his worst SP (.905) since his debut season with Chicago.
If Raanta is healthy in his new market, he's a steal. The best season of his career was his busiest, suggesting if he can finally stay healthy, the returns could be exponential. But at this point, that's impossible to bank on as an NHL GM. Raanta, 6-foot, 195 pounds, also doesn’t possess ideal size.
Petr Mrazek – Carolina Hurricanes
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Petr Mrazek is nearly four years Raanta’s junior but debuted a season earlier and hits unrestricted free agency with 77 more NHL games under his belt. Detroit selected the Czech goalie in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. He made his NHL debut for them during the 2012-13 season but didn’t become an NHL regular until 2014-15.
Unfortunately for Mrazek, he doesn’t have as impressive – or at least consistent – a resume to fall back on. In 275 career games, Mrazek has a .911 SP and 2.59 GAA. Using the same 50-game threshold as for Raanta (and extending the sample back one year to accommodate Mrazek’s extra season), Mrazek is tied for 43rd in SP and tied for 30th in GAA among 92 NHL stoppers. To be fair to Mrazek, while Raanta played for generally strong Chicago and New York teams and then defense-minded Arizona, Mrazek spent the bulk of his career with a Detroit team on the downturn at the end of its 25-season playoff streak.
Mrazek is capable of delivering blistering hot play for stretches but has yet to sustain it. He spent his first five-and-a-half seasons with Detroit before being moved to Philadelphia shortly before the 2018 trade deadline. That experiment – like most in Philly’s net – didn’t work out. So ahead of 2018-19, Mrazek signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal with Carolina.
His first eight games with the Canes were awful, and it looked like his NHL days may be numbered. But after that, Mrazek had a 32-game stretch in which he posted a record of 20-11-1, a .921 SP and had four shutouts. The 15 games directly leading into the playoffs were the best of that sample, too. In them, Mrazek had a 12-3 record, .943 SP and three shutouts. Carolina won an Eastern wildcard spot and went into the playoffs as one of the league's hottest teams. The Bunch of Jerks made a deep run, reaching the conference final before getting swept by Boston. But Mrazek struggled mightily in the playoffs and ended up splitting time with journeyman Curtis McElhinney. That was, in no small part, responsible for Carolina’s magical run coming to an end.
But still, for what the expectations were upon his arrival, Mrazek impressed. That off-season, Mrazek re-upped with Carolina for two more years, at $3.125 million per season.
In 2019-20, Mrazek regressed. He had a .905 SP and 2.69 GAA, both among his career-worsts. But like the previous year, his final few games were strong. In the last six games before the season pause, Mrazek posted season-best numbers suggesting things had begun to turn around again.
In the playoffs, Mrazek split time with James Reimer. And Carolina got 'Good Petr,' picking up a couple of wins and posting a .929 SP and 2.08 GAA. But Carolina was ultimately overmatched by Boston and fell in five games in the Edmonton bubble.
This season started auspiciously for Mrazek, as he posted two shutouts in his first three starts. But in February, Mrazek underwent surgery on his right thumb. He’d miss the next 31 games, eventually returning to the lineup on April 4. He got into five more games then suffered a lower-body injury that kept him out of another six contests. In the interim, Alex Nedeljkovic wrested control of Carolina’s crease. So, while Mrazek was healthy to start the playoffs, he did so on the bench. He was eventually called on for Games 3 and 4 of the Tampa series but couldn't save Carolina’s season, with the team ultimately losing in five games.
Mrazek turned 29 in February. Nedeljkovic seems like the heir apparent in Carolina, but maybe Mrazek settles on a short-term gig as Nedeljkovic’s battery mate. He may want to look elsewhere, though. He’s had streaks that tantalize and may very well entice a GM to offer him a shot at a starting gig, or at least a 1B role. But, ultimately, a ton of goalies can get hot for stretches in the right circumstances. If they couldn’t, they probably wouldn’t have the chance to play in the best league in the world. Mrazek also has had a nasty habit of allowing stinkers – even dating back to his major-junior days with the Ottawa 67s.
Mrazek is still young, and the upside does exist – and seems so close to the surface. But his inconsistency should at least give GMs some level of pause.