Trading Anthony Mantha was more than Red Wings fans could ask for at deadline

Yzerman proves his no-nonsense approach to rebuild

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 12: Anthony Mantha #39 of the Detroit Red Wings l;ooks on during the second period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on November 12, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) (Sean M. Haffey, 2019 Getty Images)

The Detroit Red Wings traded Anthony Mantha at Monday’s deadline, effectively moving their second-highest salary against the cap while grabbing two more draft picks for GM Steve Yzerman’s stockpile.

But that’s not all: Yzerman also added an exciting player in Jakub Vrana, a 25-year-old winger with a lot of upside. Vrana costs substantially less than Mantha, sure, but most importantly he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. You can’t ask for better flexibility here.

This was a move with the Washington Capitals that no one saw coming until rumblings on Monday. Most were stuck waiting for a Luke Glendening or Jonathan Bernier trade (neither were moved) that would net nothing better than some mid-round pick, or worse, all while ignoring the idea that Yzerman could be looking to move Mantha with his relatively big contract.

In hindsight, it makes so much sense. Mantha, 26, clearly was not having the impact many expected him to have when he signed his four-year contract ($5.7 million cap hit) in November. He was benched/healthy scratched by coach Jeff Blashill in February after a slow start to the season, signaling things were awry.

The thought of moving Mantha at the deadline seemed like a distant hope. His inconsistency was a constant issue game in and game out. He had his good moments when he was playing with more tenacity, driving the net and using his 6-foot-5 frame to create scoring chances, but nothing screamed that this player was worth $5.7 million against the cap in the next three seasons for a rebuilding Detroit team.

Yzerman signed him to that four-year deal presumably on the belief that Mantha would prove his worth right away despite the lackluster lineup around him. A few months of mediocre play was enough for Yzerman to decide Mantha would not be part of the future.

Before Monday, if you were to ask most folks in hockey what Yzerman could get for Mantha with that contract, the answer certainly wouldn’t have been a 1st-round and 2nd-round and a points-producing player like Vrana. No, I think most would have thought the 2nd-round pick would have sufficed.

But perhaps the Capitals were blinded by their lust for another Stanley Cup run before Alexander Ovechkin gets older -- he’s 35 now. The Capitals were no doubt intrigued by Mantha’s scoring potential and adding his lefthand shot to the power play -- Ovechkin shoots right. Mantha will fit in nicely with that offense, there’s no question. Perhaps he’ll be able to utilize his strong shot more and with less liability.

Moreover, the Capitals were not shy about moving Vrana, a player that suffered his own run-ins with his coach. He was healthy scratched earlier this month, and Caps coach Pete Laviolette had this to say:

“We’ve had many conversations just about his play with regard to the competitiveness of it and the speed of it. He is a very skilled player but there are other aspects of the game that are very important … We’re looking for a higher level of play.”

The Red Wings are taking him in, as they have other players, in a low-risk situation. He may or may not stay with the team beyond this season, but that’s irrelevant. Mantha was moved for assets in return, and that was the goal.

Yzerman also took on 30-year-old Richard Panik’s $2.7 million contract (through 2023), but that’s only to help move Mantha to the cash-strapped Capitals. This is just a great deadline move, period. For a fanbase that has had little to celebrate since Yzerman arrived back in Detroit in April 19, this should be something we stand up and applaud for.

Yzerman won the trade deadline with what can only be considered the best move out all of the moves. And it was a deadline with many obstacles, not the least of which was the pandemic and contenders with little money to spare.

Mantha move proves Yzerman’s no-nonsense approach

Mantha was a 20th overall draft pick in 2013 after putting up 89 points in 67 games with Val d’Or Foreurs in the QMJHL. The expectation was that Mantha, standing 6 feet 5 inches, would be an offensive force on the wing at the NHL level. He began to hit his stride in 2017-18 with 24 goals for the Red Wings -- he followed that up with 25 goals in 2018-19.

This past season Mantha only appeared in 43 games for Detroit, but he still managed 16 goals and 22 assists thanks to a hot start to the season. He suffered a hand injury in December that kept him out of he lineup for weeks.

This season was supposed to be his comeback. Yet, he stumbled out of the gate, just as the rest of the Red Wings did. The difference is Mantha was being paid to help make sure that horrific stumble didn’t happen this season. As noted, he had his moments -- enough positive nights for 11 goals and 10 assists through 42 games played with the basement dwelling Red Wings.

We had our suspicions that very few players on this team were untradeable outside of Dylan Larkin, and Yzerman confirmed that as fact in the Mantha trade this week.

Yzerman’s other deadline moves:

Yzerman’s stockpile: Red Wings draft positions

Here are the updated draft positions for the next two seasons with the additions from the trade deadline moves. The Red Wings now have 22 draft picks over the next two years.

2021 draft positions:

Here’s the updated list of Red Wings 2021 and 2022 draft positions:

2022 draft positions

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