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The creative stylings of "the biggest wings fan you'll ever meet"

After the exit of Jeff Lerg Toledo Walleye fans were in need of some good news, and I’m happy to bring such news for you all! Two members of the 2015-16 Walleye school have agreed to terms for the upcoming season: A.J. Jenks and Beau Schmitz. Both bring excellent leadership skills to the team, and their experience in the AHL and ECHL alike will be invaluable. Both players have very different roles on the team though, so let’s take a look at both.

A.J. Jenks is a fan favorite here in Toledo, recognized by hard hitting offense and an abundance of hair underneath his helmet. Jenks has had a career spanning over five states, three leagues, and eight teams. Originally drafted by the Florida Panthers during the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, he began in the OHL with the Plymouth Whalers before making his pro debut with Rochester in 2010. From 2014-2016 A.J. has suited up with the Walleye, with trips to Grand Rapids and Charlotte in the AHL as well. Over the two years with the Walleye he has put up 70 points with 38 goals over 97 games played, in Grand Rapids Jenks scored two goals and tallied an assist in 5 games. A natural center, Jenks plays an aggressive and hard hitting style play to compliment his 6’ 2” 200 pound frame. A.J. is also very proficient in faceoffs, sharing major reps with Michael Leone and Shane Berschbach. With six years of professional hockey experience and four years of juniors, Jenks is an extremely valuable piece for a Walleye team that is bringing on many new veterans and fresh rookies. On the defensive side of the ice the Walleye also brought back the workhorse known as Beau Schmitz.

A.J. Jenks taking a faceoff during a game against the Utah Grizzlies.

Everyone knows the old adage defense wins championships, and hockey is no exception to the rule. Toledo looks to improve their own defense for the upcoming season with the resigning of Beau Schmitz. A right handed defenseman, Schmitz began his professional career with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL in 2012. He also played for the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL before coming to Toledo for the 2015-16 season. During last season Schmitz played 68 games for the Walleye, second most behind Dominic Zombo and most among defensemen. Schmitz is not known as a player to put up points, in 130 ECHL games he has only scored six goals along with 20 assists. Beau isn’t on the team to put up points though, his job and his talent is to prevent opponents from scoring. An ability to stay out of the penalty box pairs well with his game, in his 68 games with the Walleye last year Schmitz had a mere 28 penalty infraction minutes (PIM) on the season. Though his +/- rating was only +1, the defense looked at its peak when Beau took the ice and his puck movement skills are excellent. Expect Schmitz to be a top pair defenseman this year, most likely to be paired with Captain Nightingale.

Walleye defenseman Beau Schmitz and former Walleye goaltender Dustin Carlson during warm ups.

I’m very excited to see these players resigned by the Walleye, both will be critical to keep a high level of play in Toledo. Jenks may see more play time in Grand Rapids though, depending on call ups to the Red Wings or injuries. While he is in Toledo expect to see a lot of production alongside Berschbach, the two are shaping up to be the point scorers this year. Schmitz on the other hand will be preventing the scoring, which is exactly what we need from him. Hopefully both these veterans will be able to teach some of the young guns a thing or two, so the Walleye can claim their first Western Conference title. Let’s go Walleye! 

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Information about Jenks and Schmitz was provided by the Toledo Walleye website news section at:

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Today the Red Wings managed to avoid arbitration with their goaltender Petr Mrazek and strike a Two year $8 Million dollar deal. The deal breaks down to Mrazek making $3.85 Million this season and $4.15 Million the next before becoming a Restricted Free Agent again in 2018. 

With the signing of Mrazek, the Red Wings find themselves over the cap by 4.2 Million. One thing to keep in mind though is that the Red Wings also have 3 players to put on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) which will free up some space. Johan Franzen ($3.95 Million), Joe Vital ($1.16 Million), and Teemu Pulkkinen (612,500) are eligible for LTIR. Also expect the Wings to look into trading some forwards as well to free up the log jam.

This deal is one that some expected, although some believe he deserved a long term deal and more money. It’s a bridge deal that allows Mrazek to prove himself to the Wings as THE guy between the pipes. Mrazek has played amazing for the 2nd half of the 2014-15 season including an outstanding playoff performance vs Tampa Bay as well as an amazing 1st half of last season before burning out and suffering a groin injury. If Petr can rebound from last season’s sluggish 2nd half then you can expect a long term deal for him. It’s smart on the Red Wings end to further evaluate the 24 year old goalie before making a decision to commit to him long term. Some may not like the thought process but it was smart for Petr to take this deal and for the Red Wings to offer it so they could avoid a arbitration hearing.

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Reports have surfaced that Petr Mrazek and the Detroit Red Wings are still far from settling an agreement on a new contract. According to reports, Mrazek wants an even $5 million deal for two years for a total of $10 million, while the Red Wings are only offering him a two-year deal worth a total of $5.85 million, or an average of $2,925,000 per year. What Mrazek is looking to get isn't anywhere close to what the Red Wings are trying to pay him, at least for right now. So, what is Mrazek actually worth?

Petr Mrazek of the Detroit Red Wings.

In order to figure this out, we need to compare Mrazek to the goalies around the league to figure out this market. Mrazek played in a total of 54 regular season games last year, and his record was 27-16-6. Those aren't bad numbers considering the team as a whole last season. He held a .921 save percentage with a goals against average of 2.33, both of which are solid numbers. His .921 save percentage ranked 9th in league for goalies who played in a minimum of 25 games while his 2.33 goals against average ranked 14th. While those numbers are solid, they were only good enough to put him as an average goalie in the NHL last season. I think we can all agree that Mrazek has the potential to be an elite goalie in this league, and he played like it for much of the season.

That being said, however, Mrazek dipped in the latter half of the season fast. Throughout the first three quarters of the season, many people had Mrazek as a Vezina Trophy finalist for best goaltender in the NHL. His numbers were as good as any goaltender in the NHL, and as a result he was helping his team pick up wins. The last quarter of the season, though, he went downhill. Let's face it- if it weren't for Howard, the Red Wings would not have made the playoffs. Like all goalies in this league, Mrazek went into a slump that almost cost his team. Mrazek has a history of being a bit of a streaky goaltender, but he has always been able to show his ability to bounce back. Mrazek finished the season strong and played well when it mattered most. While the Red Wings were eliminated in five games by the Lightning, it was not Mrazek's fault. In the three games Mrazek started, he recorded a .945 save percentage and had a goals against average of just 1.36 while gaining one shutout.

Mrazek has proved that he has the potential to be an elite goaltender in this league and when looking at the contracts of comparable goalies, it certainly appears that the Red Wings are not putting a fair value on him. Here is a list of goalies who make more than $5 million per year who Mrazek outplayed this past season:

Sergei Bobrovsky- $7.425 mil/year
Tuukka Rask- $7 mil/year
Corey Crawford- $6 mil/year
Ryan Miller- $6 mil/year 
Kari Lehtonen- $5.9 mil/year
Semyon Varlamov- $5.9 mil/year
Mike Smith- $5.6 mil/year
Roberto Luongo- $5.33 mil/year
Jimmy Howard- $5.292 mil/year

Yes, many of these goalies have bad contracts. Yes, many of these goalies have had seasons in which they played really well and consistent and earned these contracts. No, one bad year doesn't mean a goalie is bad or overpaid. This doesn't mean these stats can be ignored, though. Mrazek, at just 24 years of age, is on the rise and has been making progress in each his four seasons with the Griffins and Red Wings. His young age also works against him, however. Mrazek hasn't played a full season as a starting goaltender for the Red Wings. His consistency has been a bit of an issue as well, so it's hard to justify giving him $5 million per year. However, that might just be the market for a starting goalie in the NHL right now. Frederik Andersen, now a goalie for the Maple Leafs, had very similar numbers to Mrazek with the Ducks last season and he was just rewarded with a $5 million/year contract. Keep in mind Andersen played with a much better team than Detroit as well. He is also still a very young goalie at only 26 years old, too. 

While Mrazek doesn't necessarily have the resume one would hope for, he is worth more than the $3 million/year the Red Wings are offering him, in my opinion. I believe it is unrealistic for the Red Wings to be able to expect to sign him for much less than $4 million/year. The goalie market is expensive, and it's hard to win without paying for goaltending, which is what the Red Wings have been known to do. 

I can't be the only one wondering why the Red Wings were willing to give Howard that big contract, yet hesitant to do the same for Mrazek, right? I have always been a Howard fan, and I still think he has the ability to be a starter in the league for a different team, but the Red Wings gave him that money pretty willingly. One might say, "well it didn't work out with Howard, why would it work with Mrazek? Holland is just being cautious," and, in my opinion, that's an unfair argument. First of all, Mrazek is not Howard. You can't let one bad contract deter you from giving other players contracts. Secondly, $5 million/year is pretty low risk if it's only going to be a two or three year deal. It's not like giving this kind of money to Mrazek would be anything similar to the Red Wings paying Stephen Weiss that kind of money for FIVE FREAKING YEARS only to buy his contract out after two years, and I think we can all agree Mrazek isn't going to be either Howard or Weiss. Part of the business is taking risks on players that can potentially alter your franchise for the better, and Mrazek absolutely has that ability. 

As of right now, Petr Mrazek is the future goalie of this franchise.  I'm excited with what he has shown all of us up to this point in his career, and I'm even more excited to see how improves throughout the upcoming years. Does Mrazek have an ego? Sure, everyone does. However, I think it would be in the best interest for the Red Wings to keep Mrazek happy and give him something a lot closer to his asking price of $5 million/year. Their current offer just isn't going to cut it. 

What do you think? What would you like to see happen?

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