No one expected the Flyers to blossom as quickly as they have, but they are a stunning 22-8-3 since they ended a 10-game losing streak in early December and, with some breaks down the road, could make some noise in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
They are ahead of schedule because rising young stars like Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Konecny, and Ivan Provorov have complemented veterans who are among the NHL elite – say hello to Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Wayne Simmonds.
As a result, the Flyers have been one of the NHL’s most surprising teams.
This is a team that didn’t point fingers during its 0-5-5 losing skid and, in an odd way, grew stronger from it. This is a team that has road wins against Tampa Bay, Vegas, St. Louis, Toronto, and Washington – all considered Stanley Cup contenders.
For all of the above reasons, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall owed it to his team to bolster his goaltending before the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
Late Monday night, he did just that.
Hextall acquired Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft, along with a conditional third-round selection in 2019.
One word: Bravo.
“Petr’s a proven NHL goaltender, and given the situation we’re in, we needed a proven goaltender,” Hextall said.
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Brian Elliott is out for at least another month after having abdominal surgery, and Michal Neuvirth will miss weeks, according to Hextall. “It is longer term and not shorter term,” he said of Neuvirth’s status.
Hextall did not give up too much for a veteran who can stabilize the Flyers’ shaky goalie situation and keep the team buzzing along.
Mrazek, 26, is a 6-foot-2, 181-pounder who was 8-7-3 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .910 save percentage for a mediocre Detroit team this season.
In 166 career games, he is 72-58-20 with a 2.60 GAA and .912 save percentage.
The Detroit Free Press reported that a few days ago, Hextall rejected a deal for Mrazek for a third-round pick this year. But Hextall circled back and got the deal done.
Detroit retains half of Mrazek’s $4 million salary, Hextall confirmed. The conditions of the deal: Detroit is guaranteed no less than a fourth-round pick, which could become a third- or second-rounder depending on how well the Flyers and Mrazek perform. The third-round pick in 2019 is conditional only if Mrazek re-signs with the Flyers.
If the Flyers make the playoffs and Mrazek wins at least five regular-season games for them, the fourth-rounder this year becomes a third-rounder. If the Flyers advance to the conference finals and Mrazek wins six playoff games, the third becomes a second.
“I think it’s a fair and reasonable deal for both sides,” Hextall said.
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Acquiring Mrazek will take the pressure off rookie Alex Lyon.
Maybe Lyon, who was brilliant after relieving the injured Michal Neuvirth in Sunday’s 7-4 win over the New York Rangers, would have been the answer and would have shown he can be a No. 1 NHL goalie right now.
But, in all likelihood, the Flyers needed someone with more NHL experience — like Mrazek — to make a Stanley Cup run. That’s magnified even more when you look at the inconsistent play of the Flyers defense.
Hextall said he had no idea yet whether he will try to re-sign Mrazek, adding he would deal with it after the season.
Hextall hopes Mrazek contributes to a fun and unexpected ride this spring.
“This is a sign that our players have done a really good job. They’ve worked extremely hard,” Hextall said. “We were in a tough situation. You lose your top two goaltenders when you’re fighting for a playoff spot, and our players have worked hard for a long time now and I didn’t think it was fair to not have a proven NHL goaltender for this team. That’s the reason we acted.”
Think of it this way: Where would the Eagles have been if both of their top quarterbacks had gone down with a season-ending injury? Would the inexperienced Nate Sudfeld have taken them to the promised land?
No offense to the hardworking Lyon. He is a good prospect, but at this stage of his career, is he ready to carry the load with a suspect defense in front of him?
Antti Raanta, a potential unrestricted free agent this summer whom Arizona is trying to re-sign, would have been my No. 1 choice, but Mrazek is a solid addition.
Well done, Mr. Hextall.