Sunday, April 21, 2024

Shutout Overreaction: Will Veteran Goalie Stay With Blackhawks Next Season?

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Now 25 games into what has been a long season already for the Blackhawks, there haven’t been too many bright spots to speak of in Chicago. Rookie Connor Bedard has been everything the team could ask for and more, as his 20 points lead the 8-16-1 Blackhawks by a long shot. Aside from his production, Chicago has been poor both offensively and defensively. While it was an expected result at this point in the season, the record and lack of production are a useful reminder that this team’s rebuild is a process. While Bedard certainly changes the timeline of that process, the Blackhawks clearly aren’t ready to contend for a championship just yet.

One of the few other bright spots for Chicago this year has been veteran goaltender Petr Mrazek. At 31 years old with an expiring contract after this year, Mrazek seemed to be simply a placeholder between the pipes until Arvid Soderblom and Drew Commesso could lock down the position long-term. The team’s goaltending was expected by many to be a major weakness.

Through 13 starts this year, however, Mrazek has been solid. His 3.42 GAA is somewhat misleading – the defense in front of him has been a revolving door and he’s routinely asked to make close to 40 saves. Mrazek is often the sole reason his team is still competitive late in games.

Mrazek’s great year came to its crest Thursday night when he recorded his first shutout as a Blackhawk, and 25th of his career, in a 1-0 win. The shutout was no gimme – he made 37 saves and faced a constant shooting barrage throughout the night, making one terrific stop after another.

Just moments after the completion of a shutout, it’s easy to overreact to a great performance and argue that an aging veteran like Mrazek deserves to come back to the Blackhawks on a new contract… but what if he does? Resigning Mrazek wouldn’t be cheap – he’s making $3.8 million this year and that number won’t go down. He’s on the wrong side of 30, and isn’t part of the long-term vision of Chicago – the team has Drew Commesso and eventually Adam Gajan coming through the pipeline.

Not too far-fetched?

However, bringing Mrazek back on a one or two-year deal could be tremendously beneficial for a team trying to find its identity. He’s solid enough between the pipes to give the Blackhawks a sense of stability at the position. Though he’ll cost more than the younger players in the system, Chicago has plenty of room to work with – with a five-percent increase in the salary cap taking effect next season, the Blackhawks are projected to have more than $52 million in cap space next year.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Chicago may have a developing hole at the goaltender position this year and beyond. 24-year-old Arvid Soderblom will certainly get plenty more games under his belt before his long-term future with the team is even considered, but he’s struggled mightily in his 11 starts so far. With a 2-8-1 record and .884 save percentage, Soderblom doesn’t quite seem ready to be the team’s number-one option in net. Beyond him, the next potential candidate for the job is Commesso. He’s been excellent in the AHL this year but is just 21 years old. Bringing him to the NHL too soon could seriously hurt his development and lead to issues down the road, a risk Chicago likely isn’t willing to take.

While it’s possible the Blackhawks could look to fill a potential void through free agency or a trade, there may not be many available options more reliable than Mrazek, and he’s displaying that with nights like tonight. If he can continue to post these types of performances, there may be a spot on this roster for the veteran next year after all.

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