What the Petr Mrazek trade means for Maple Leafs’ goalie hunt

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas speaks about the opportunities they have after trading away goaltender Petr Mrazek to the Chicago Blackhawks.

MONTREAL – With the goalie carousel picking up speed on draft week, Kyle Dubas needed to act fast.

But the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs had to first clear a seat before he could fill it.

In a bittersweet draft-floor deal, Dubas paid a first-round pick (25th overall) to the Chicago Blackhawks in order to unload the final two seasons of Petr Mrazek’s mistake contract and recoup the necessary cap space ($3.8 million) to be a major player in the goalie frenzy unfolding over the next week.

The Maple Leafs saved $8.6 million in real dollars and traded down 13 spots, to 38th overall.

“With the cap space we have now, every option is available to us,” declared Dubas, who is open to filling his most critical need either via free agency or trade.

“You see with the trade today and the signings today that the number of chairs are starting to go by the wayside. And so, I think our situation would be enticing for any goaltender.

“We just want to make ourselves as flexible as possible. Create the cap space for ourselves and proceed. So, that’s what we were able to do tonight.”

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An already thin UFA market shrunk Thursday with one-time Leafs target Marc-André Fleury re-signing for two years and $7 million in Minnesota.

Trade option Alexandar Georgiev was dealt from the Rangers to the Avalanche, sending Stanley Cup champion Darcy Kuemper to market.

Dubas has explored acquiring Kuemper in the past.

St. Louis’s Ville Husso is another intriguing — but unproven — impending UFA.

And Dubas said he will circle back to his own UFA-to-be, Jack Campbell, with whom negotiations have thus far been cool at best. The GM plans to meet with Campbell’s camp when he returns to Toronto following Day 2 of the draft.

There is some smoke around Montreal’s Jake Allen and Anaheim’s John Gibson.

Ottawa has made former Soo Greyhound Matt Murray available, and Murray apparently had a say in ending a potential trade to Buffalo.

How the Mrazek deal will ultimately be judged depends on how Dubas uses his newfound money.

Dubas and Chicago GM Kyle Davidson have maintained an ongoing discussion around a Mrazek salary-dump deal for a while. Discussion picked up in-person in Montreal Wednesday. Then once Dubas’s ideal choice at No. 25 got scooped up early, he picked up the phone.

Davidson is spearheading a scorched-earth rebuild — he also traded away young, talented forwards Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach Thursday — and wasn’t eager to dive into the competitive UFA goalie race for a placeholder as he resets his roster.

He used the Leafs’ first-rounder to select Sam Rinzel, a big right-shot defenceman from Minnesota.

“We’ve got a guy that can come in and give us solid NHL starts,” Davidson said of Mrazek. “It also allowed us to get back into the first round, and we were really targeting Sam. So, it was a great opportunity to essentially move up.”

Dubas has never been afraid to spend draft capital to swiftly correct bad signings.

He dealt a conditional second-rounder to Arizona to get out from Nick Ritchie mid-season (and acquire rental Ilya Lyubushkin) and shed a first-rounder to Carolina in 2019 (Seth Jarvis) to cut bait with Patrick Marleau (a Lou Lamoriello signing).

Cap space is king.

“It’s a big ask of the amateur scouting staff because they pour a lot into it, and I don’t like to do that. But I didn’t want to move anything outright, and so moving back was the best option,” Dubas said.

“You see Edmonton did the same after we did.”

And the Oilers paid a stiffer price to do so.

Ken Holland not only traded down three spots but surrendered a future second-rounder and future third-rounder to Arizona in the evening’s other salary-dump deal.

By shedding a $3.2-million cap hit Zack Kassian, Holland becomes just as much of a player in the goalie market as Dubas. (Our read: Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong had a much better night than Davidson.)

The pressure on Dubas is now two-fold.

Immediately, he must acquire a strong goaltender that can carry a significant load and allow prospects Erik Källgren and Joseph Woll more time to develop.

And with only three picks in the draft, all on Day 2, the GM needs to hit on that No. 38 pick.

The cupboards aren’t exactly full.

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