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Chicago Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson has made a message very clear over the past three weeks: The Rebuild is going to be a long-term process. With the two-year contract extensions of Nick Foligno and Jason Dickinson, two players on expiring deals who had trade value at this season’s upcoming trade deadline, Davidson invested in the short-term development of his locker room culture and roster stability. He did the same this morning when the Blackhawks agreed on another two-year contract extension with goaltender Petr Mrazek.
After trading a second-round pick to acquire Mrazek from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 2022 NHL Draft, along with a 2022 first-round pick that turned into Sam Rinzel, the expectations for the then 30-year-old Mrazek was to be a stop-gap for Chicago in net and to take up a more significant portion of the salary cap as the team moved into their rebuild process. Since joining the organization, Mrazek holds an even .900 save-percentage and a 3.36 GAA in 71 appearances.
His 2022-23 season was disrupted often by lower-body/groin injuries on his way to a 10-22-3 record with a .894 save-percentage and 3.66 GAA, a stat line and string of performances that were more in-line with the version of Mrazek that the Maple Leafs had to get rid of, rather than the version of him that the NHL had seen in multiple seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes.
But this 2023-24 season has been different for the former 2010 fifth-round pick. Mrazek has won the starting job in Chicago after beginning the year as a near-50/50 tandem with Arvid Söderblom, with the expectations that Söderblom would likely be the one to emerge as the Blackhawks’ starter as the season progressed, or until the inevitable injury bug bit Mrazek. Fortunately for Petr, his health has held-up strong this season and his play in net behind a 2023-24 Blackhawks team that is worse than last season’s edition has led to GM Kyle Davidson believing in his abilities to bridge the gap between the present and the future in net in Chicago.
Mrazek’s .907 save-percentage this season ranks 15th in the NHL among goaltenders with at least 20 appearances and his 3.44 Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) also ranks 15th in the NHL among 44 goaltenders to play 1,000 minutes or more this season.
Yes, could Kyle Davidson be trading away any and every player on an expiring unrestricted free agent deal for more future assets? Sure. But at some point, a team can have too many picks to use and too many prospects without having enough players who are ready and able to play in the NHL and operate successfully in an NHL environment.
In a recent media availability, Davidson alluded to the idea that if he traded all of those kinds of players, mainly the three that have recent re-signed like Foligno, Dickinson, and Mrazek, then he would have to go into this summer’s free agency and have to find the exact same kinds of players to replace them for next season and beyond. So he has made the decision that extending them now saves him the process of having to replace them this offseason.
Foligno is a hard-working veteran and a leader within the locker room culture. Same can be said for Dickinson. For Mrazek, his two-year extension gives the Blackhawks runway to find out what kind of role Arvid Söderblom can actually play as a professional, where Drew Commesso develops over the next two seasons as a professional, and where Adam Gajan goes in his next two seasons as he prepares to move to the NCAA.
These deals also help the Blackhawks reach the NHL salary cap floor as it moves up without having to log-jam the roster with “salary dump” players as the young wave of players looks to break into the NHL and all three also have their purpose within the rebuilding process.
As a popular Batman villain once said, “It’s all part of the plan.”
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