When Petr Mrazek signed a three-year, $11.4 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, it represented a philosophical change in how goalies have been deployed by the team. For those Maple Leafs’ fans who recall the deployment former head coach Mike Babcock used to engage (and which remained prevalent past his firing), it was a strong starting goalie who played about 60 games and then a weaker backup who played the tougher of any back-to-back games – perhaps about 15 games per season.
The issue over the past few seasons was that it put tremendous pressure on the starting goalie to be and stay sharp. Any fall off almost seemed to be disaster for the team. Granted, that philosophy worked well during Frederik Andersen’s first four seasons with the Maple Leafs. During his first three seasons, he played 66 games (season one), 66 games (season two), 60 games (season three), and then fell to 52 games (season four).
Although the team played well during the regular season, Andersen couldn’t continue his stellar play during the postseason and the Maple Leafs lost every first-round series it played. As Maple Leafs’ fans know too well, Andersen let in too many soft goals. Was he tired? If so, was there an issue of over-use?
For 2021-22, Campbell’s 1A and Mrazek’s 1B
Instead of finding another starting goalie, the Maple Leafs took the opportunity to solidify Jack Campbell as the starter, but to find a legitimate 1B in Mrazek. Mrazek knows the deal, and he’s happy with it. The 29-year-old reported in a recent interview:
“I was really happy when [my agent] said that Toronto reached out about it. You know the team they have, and the history of Toronto is great. So it was an easy choice. The team that they have is great starting with the general manager, the coaching staff. The team in front of the goal is powerful, a lot of skills and, you know, guys can score goals and win games.”
Mrazek’s Been a Solid Goalie During His NHL Career
Mrazek has been a solid goalie since he was picked during the fifth round (141 overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings. His NHL record is 128-96-31, and he’s put together a goals-against-average of 2.59 with a save percentage of .911, including 24 shutouts in 275 games (250 starts) with the Red Wings, the Philadelphia Flyers, and most recently the Carolina Hurricanes.
Although Mrazek was injured last season, he still had a 6-2-3 record with a goals-against average of 2.06, and a save percentage of .923 (including three shutouts) in only 12 games.
Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas Shares Team’s Philosophy
Maple Leafs’ general manager noted that “We were fortunate going in that we already had [goalie] Jack Campbell who we feel very strongly about.”
Then, Dubas specifically spoke about the change of philosophy when he said. “We felt we needed to find a strong partner for him so we can have as good a tandem as possible and we felt we achieved that with Petr today. We really wanted someone with a long track record of being a very good goaltender in the League and from that point on it was trying to find the best value, which we feel we did with Petr.”
Dubas also noted that, “His (Mrazek’s) track record of success, he’s been a very good tandem partner in Carolina for the last number of years. We like his competitiveness and everything behind the scenes, everything checks out as strong. When I spoke to him today, he was very open about how he sees himself in that partnership with Jack, and it’s about supporting each other but pushing one another. We like Jack a lot so we wanted to find someone who could be a good partner and not be disruptive in that regard.”
Mrazek Is Good with the Maple Leafs’ Plan
Mrazek spoke to that philosophy when he said, “I don’t know Jack personally, but I heard a lot of great things about him from my previous teammates. I can’t wait to partner with him because the last three seasons in Carolina, I always had great guys with me and we always find a way how to push, how to be better, how to push us to get better. So, I’m looking forward to work with him.”
Time Will Tell How This Plan Will Work Out
Although the proof is in the pudding, the idea of moving from a clear #1 followed by a clear #2 with a 1A and a 1B seems to make sense to me. Obviously, we’ll see how that works out next season. But one thing is sure: it’s going to be quite different in net for the Maple Leafs.
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