Petr Mrázek feels like he got the last laugh.
The now-31-year-old goaltender bounced between the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs, where he was plagued by groin injuries, before the Leafs traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks in July 2022.
But Mrázek, now in his second season with the Hawks, has experienced a career renaissance which he has parlayed into a two-year, $8.5 million contract extension that keeps him in Chicago through 2025-26.
“It’s a great feeling when you look back,” Mrázek said Wednesday. “After the one year that I’d been injured, everyone started questioning you, your game, your health and everything and you can change things around.
“I’m grateful for it. I talked to (Hawks general manager) Kyle (Davidson) about it yesterday as well, the opportunity he gave me to prove that I can play the game and I can still be around, it makes me really thankful to them.”
Mrázek’s deal carries a $4.25 million annual salary cap hit through the season.
Davidson said in a statement, “Petr is a strong goaltender who continues to display the athleticism and calming style of play that has made him so successful in this league. He’s had an immense impact within our group, and we’re excited to have Petr back.”
In his one season in Toronto, in 2021-22, he had a career-low .888 save percentage in 20 games (18 starts).
Last season, his first in Chicago, his save percentage improved to .894 but he had a career-high 3.66 goals-against average.
This fall, Mrázek initially split starts with Arvid Söderblom but he evolved into the Hawks’ primary goaltender as his game got stronger and Söderblom struggled.
As of Wednesday, Mrázek has a 12-17-1 record this season with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.
“I never questioned myself, I think that’s the reason I’m here,” said Mrázek, who was a fifth-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2010. “It’s been a long ride for me since I joined the NHL and been part of it.”
Mrázek said that over the offseason, for the first time in five years, “I had the whole summer to regroup, to reset and have great summer workouts, off the ice and on the ice things.
“That’s a big part of it. But I don’t think it’s just the groin stuff. It’s the whole body, the things I’ve been doing and helping myself to stay on top of it.”
“He’s been great,” Hawks coach Luke Richardson said. “Last year he had a little bit of injury trouble and he corrected that. He had a great finish last year for us, and this year he’s been great. He came in great shape. We’re trying to manage his load so he doesn’t get overworked, and he’s played great.”
Richardson said he also likes how Mrázek communicates with defensemen, particularly because the team has played a lot of young blueliners who need development.
“That’s been helpful,” Richardson said.
Mrázek’s signing further fills out the roster the Hawks are building around Connor Bedard over the next two seasons. Veteran forwards Nick Foligno and Jason Dickinson also signed two-year extensions this month.
Veteran defensemen Seth Jones and Connor Murphy, veteran forwards Taylor Hall and Andreas Athanasiou (both currently on injured reserve) and rookies Bedard and Kevin Korchinski are the other players signed beyond this season.
Mrázek said injuries have hampered the team this season, “but going forward, I think there’s a lot of young guys that can prove themselves and be ready and be in the NHL for a long time and help this franchise to go forward.
As for the veterans like himself, “we’re the ones who are going to try to help them get better and get where they’re supposed to be.”
Richardson said he was pleasantly surprised how Mrázek, Foligno and Dickinson have worked out, but said the Hawks did their research.
When Mrázek landed in Chicago, “I think he kind of fell into something,” Richardson said. “We didn’t really know him very well, but I think he got over the injury hump and it’s worked out well for us.
“So that was a real good luck of the draw there.”