In Mrazek Deal, Hextall Rewards Flyers in Push for Playoffs

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

It may have been a move that was coming all along, but when Michal Neuvirth went down with an injury on Sunday afternoon, joining fellow regular netminder Brian Elliott with a lower-body injury, the Flyers and GM Ron Hextall were forced into action.

Hextall completed a deal on Monday night, acquiring goalie Petr Mrazek from the Detroit Red Wings for two conditional draft picks.

In years past, the Flyers would have pressed on and faced the schedule ahead with whatever they had. Getting out of the rebuilding phase was what mattered then, not the success of just making the playoffs.

But after rising from near rock bottom at the start of December to have a playoff spot well within their reach, Hextall rewarded the rest of the players on the team with a veteran presence in goal that signifies the Flyers are here to finish what they have started, to make the playoffs and see what happens from there in the postseason.

“This is a sign that our players have done a really good job,” Hextall said in a conference call on Monday night. “They’ve worked extremely hard. We’re in a tough situation — you lose your top two goalies when you’re fighting for a playoff spot, and our players have worked hard for a long time now, and I didn’t feel like it was fair to not have a proven NHL goaltender for this team.  That’s the reason we acted. Our focus right now is to make the playoffs, and if we make the playoffs, then we’ll go from there.”

Elliott is already out for five-to-six weeks following surgery to repair a core muscle. Hextall did not provide a specific time frame for Neuvirth’s injury, but noted it was a matter of weeks, not days, and that the injury was long-term.

With both goalies on the shelf, this was a move that needed to be made. The Flyers playoff push has been heavily aided by solid goaltending and strong defensive efforts. Hextall noted that the team has improved in every aspect and that the quality of goaltending that they get from here is of the utmost importance.

“What we need from Petr and Alex is solid goaltending,” Hextall said. “We’ve got a good team, we’ve played well, we’ve played pretty well defensively, offensively we’ve scored enough goals, so we need our goaltenders to give us solid efforts every night. We felt like Petr can certainly add to Alex there and give us solid goaltending.”

This was certainly not a knock on Alex Lyon, who filled in admirably in the Flyers 7-4 win over the Rangers on Sunday, allowing just one goal on 26 shots in the final two periods of the game. If anything, for the Flyers to put their playoff hopes on a rookie goalie with five games of NHL experience, Hextall felt that may be too much for Lyon to handle at this point in his career.

“As we found out in the last couple weeks here, you never know how many players you’re going to need, and obviously the goaltending position is a critical position. We certainly didn’t feel comfortable with both guys down, but even one of them down, then you’re one injury away from having inexperienced guys,” Hextall said. “Alex did a real good job the other night, and we have a lot of confidence in Alex, but to have Alex be the guy at this point would be an awful lot for a young player at this point, so we felt like this was a prudent move to make for the sake of our team.”

Even the price tag worked for the Flyers. The conditions on the two picks are very different, but come down to what happens now and what happens beyond this season.

The pick for this season is based on success for the remainder of the season and into the playoffs. The pick for 2019 only goes to Detroit if the Flyers choose to re-sign Mrazek following the season. Hextall said that is a decision that they will turn their attention to after the season. Hextall also called the terms of the deal fair and believes it fit what both sides were looking for.

“I think quite frankly when I look at this deal, I think it’s a fair and reasonable deal for both sides,” Hextall said. “If Petr performs, we pay more, Detroit gets more. If he doesn’t, they still get paid and it costs us a certain amount, but it’s not overpaid. If we do have success and we pay, then that’s good. It’s good for Detroit, good for us.  I like the makeup of this deal, I think it’s a fair deal, and I think both teams got what they wanted.”

Mrazek is expected to arrive in time for the Flyers morning skate on Tuesday and be available for Tuesday night’s game.

With 23 games to go on the Flyers schedule, it was right of Hextall to make the necessary move and to give the Flyers a fighting chance going forward. The team has put forth such a strong effort that it would be wrong to rob them of the chance to finish their playoff push and not give them a shot in a playoff series as well.

Mrazek gives the Flyers another veteran presence and puts the focus solely on this season. Elliott is expected to return just in time for the end of the regular season. Mrazek is a restricted free agent after this season. There will be a lot to sort out at the end of the season.

But for now, the sights are set on finishing the job this season. It’s only fitting, given how much the team has fought to be where they are as the trade deadline approaches.

Flyers Notes

The team also called up Oskar Lindblom, a move that was somewhat surprising beings that the Flyers didn’t subtract a player from the roster. Hextall noted that the Flyers may have another injury they are working around, but would not go into further detail. An update is expected on Tuesday prior to the game against the Canadiens, but an additional injury would explain why the Flyers added another body.

Lindblom has 16 goals and 34 points in 54 games with the Phantoms this season, including goals in four of his last five games.

Anthony Stolarz was also activated off the injured, non-roster list and loaned to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. That is not an indication that he is ready to play anytime soon.

“He needs practice. He hasn’t had a full practice, so again, as I told you guys a week or ten days ago or whenever it was, it’s a matter of ramping him up day by day and seeing where it goes,” Hextall said. “There’s some trial and error there, and Stolie’s got to be comfortable with where he’s at. Just the whole timing thing, from a goalie’s perspective, it takes time to get your timing back. So I still don’t know a timeline, but it’s not in the real near future here.”

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