The Carolina Hurricanes have bet this season on Petr Mrazek. He will be the number one net minder for a Carolina team with high expectations; should Caniacs be concerned?
The Carolina Hurricanes have had a long and tenuous relationship with the goaltender position. Cam Ward was a divisive talent during his Carolina tenure, but developing a top tier contributor at that position has been a challenge to say the least.
Last offseason, General Manager Don Waddell foresaw the teams dilemma at the position and acted swiftly. He took a gamble on Petr Mrazek, a player in his mid-20’s who was on his third team, and had been all but dismissed by most front offices.
Mrazek had a very good year, but he didn’t do it alone. Early in the season, Waddell claimed veteran backup Curtis McElhinney off waivers from Toronto; thus birthing a platoon who proved worthy of the Eastern Conference Finals. These two players had stepped up when this team needed them most, and displayed their worth to the NHL.
McElhinney is no longer a Hurricane. Mrazek remains. Waddell has put all his chips in on number 34, opting not to address the lack of Goaltending depth in free agency. Instead, the Hurricanes traded for James Riemer, a veteran backup who has faltered in recent seasons, and Anton Forsberg, a young net minder with decent upside, on his third team in five seasons.
Despite a wonderful performance during the season opener,The question remains; should us Caniacs be concerned? Mrazek has proven to be a quality goaltender, but he has also proven to be porous at times; that history should limit our expectations for the veterans eighth NHL season
The reality is that Mrazek has been inconsistent thus far. He earned the starting job in Detroit, where he played over 50 games twice, producing a save percentage over .920 once. He also had an opportunity in Philadelphia prior to his free agency, averaging a .914 save percentage in 17 games.
Those are not horrid numbers by any means, but they aren’t elite caliber statistics. In his lone season in Carolina red, Mrazek put up a .914 save percentage in 40 games. There wasn’t the pressure to play a 50 game season, and the defensive group in Carolina allowed Mrazek to stick with his high risk style.
There is trepidation however. When Mrazek is great, he catapults his teams. Carolina’s playoff success was due in large part to how Mrazek played against Washington and New York. When Mrazek is off his game, however, it is difficult to win despite him; which was clearly evident during the Boston series.
Although there is present concerns, Hurricanes faithful should take solace in knowing that Mrazek is in the best possible situation to succeed. The defense is still one of the best in the NHL, and the offense will only get better as the youth matures, and the talent resolves itself.
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There is also the matter of the coaching staff. Rod Brind’ Amour has earned any benefit of the doubt, and the staffs work with McElhinney last season leads many to perceive a potential benefit in both Forsberg and Riemer with the same coaching staff.
Many will also note that Mrazek is still young. At only 27 years of age, he is entering the prime years of his career. With his position being a specifically difficult position to master, he should be just approaching his best years.
If Mrazek can figure it out, than this team will easily win the division; there is no Metropolitan team who can compete with the overall talent or coaching on this roster. If Mrazek falters, than many fans can expect a similar situation to last season; a team that falters early, and relies on an offensive spark at the midpoint to catapult them to playoff contention.
Caniacs should carry a bit of hesitancy before crowning Mrazek the Carolina starter for the next eight years, but if last season has taught us anything, its that Don Waddell, Rod Brind’ Amour, and these players should never be counted out.
Last night was a good example of the ebb and flow of Petr Mrazek. After making it through almost half they game without an issue and helping the Hurricanes get to a two goal lead, that lead was evaporated, lost, and given up before the end of the second period. He then goes into a third period and an incredible overtime and shootout to earn the first win of the season.
Question for CC Readers; Are you okay with Petr Mrazek being the teams starting goaltender?