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Welcome to my weekly Blackhawks Beat newsletter. This usually goes out to CHGO Sports Diehards, but we’re opening it up today for the end of the year. If you become a Diehard today, you can check out the other exclusive “Diehard Only” content we offer, including Greg Boysen and Mario Tirabassi’s weekly ‘Rebuild Report‘ and Adam Hoge’s Bears Things.
Now on to the Blackhawks Beat.
Honestly, this is a piece I couldn’t have imagined myself writing this summer…or even this fall. Since his arrival in July of 2022, Blackhawks goaltender Petr Mrazek was a necessary evil. He was a goaltender who had struggled with performance and injury for a couple of seasons … so much so that the Toronto Maple Leafs gave the Blackhawks the 25th overall pick (which turned into defenseman Sam Rinzel) just to get him off of their roster.
During his first season with Chicago, Mrazek was exactly what he was in Toronto. Inconsistent and injured, but the Hawks’ goal wasn’t winning games. Their objective was to give themselves the best chance at Connor Bedard. It worked, so Mrazek did his job in that regard.
As we entered this 2023-24 season, I thought that if things worked out really well, the Hawks might be able to find a taker for Mrazek at the trade deadline.
But now, my mind has changed. Letting Mrazek walk or dumping him for a bag of pucks at the deadline should no longer be the plan.
Mrazek has been excellent for Chicago this season. He’s having his best season since 2020-21, when he posted a 2.06 GAA and .923 save percentage. In Toronto, those numbers fell to a 3.45 GAA and .888 save percentage. Last season with the Hawks, Mrazek allowed 3.66 goals per game, with a still-sub .900 save percentage.
This year, it’s been a different story. Mrazek has been fantastic, with a 2.98 GAA and .911 save percentage … all with a team that features an inexperienced and injured defensive corps.
With top goaltending prospects Drew Commesso (Rockford) and Adam Gajan (USHL) still at least two years away, the Hawks find themselves in need of a placeholder. At one point, we thought thought that Arvid Söderblom would take the reigns, but he’s been so bad this season (4.15 GAA, .870 save percentage) he can’t be counted on to provide any level of NHL goaltending. Could he improve? Perhaps, but the Hawks can’t count on him as a long-term option considering his body of work.
That’s why a two-year contract extension for Mrazek is the move for GM Kyle Davidson. He’s a known commodity. He won’t demand a ton of free agent money, and even if he did, the Hawks are in position to pay him more than he’d likely get offered from other teams.
Teams can extend unrestricted free agents after January 1st, but there’s no need to rush the move. Davidson would be wise to keep him unsigned. Waiting gives Davidson a couple of options. He can see if a team is willing to overpay for Mrazek at the deadline. If a team is going to offer a first-round pick or high second-round pick, Davidson will certainly be willing to chat. He can also wait to see if Mrazek stays healthy and maintains this level of play.
With cap space, draft assets and a goaltender playing better than expected, Davidson holds all the cards.
The Week Ahead
Tonight and Sunday @ Dallas Stars
Dallas is a really, really good team. As Kyle Davidson looks at how to build a team over the years, the Stars should be an example. As their veterans like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin age, young stars like Jason Robertson and Wyatt Johnston are right on their heels ready to lead the next generation of Stars contenders … and make no mistake, the Stars ARE contenders.
Tuesday @ Nashville Predators
Unlike the Stars, I would like Kyle Davidson to do the opposite of what the Predators are doing. Long-time Hawks fans will recall the days of Bill Wirtz, when the team was JUST good enough to get you a little excited, but nowhere near Cup contention most years. Sure, now and again they’ll get hot or ride a great goaltender, but they’re never really a threat. That’s the Predators. They’re 19-16-0, maybe slightly better than expected, but still clinging to that last Wild Card spot with no real hopes to make any significant noise in the playoffs. As the kids say…MID!
Thanks again for being a CHGO Diehard! See you next time!
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