While trade deadline day itself was largely quiet with most of the big moves being made the night before, one of the final moves on Monday was a significant one with the Capitals acquiring winger Anthony Mantha from the Red Wings for wingers Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik, a 2021 first-round pick, and a 2022 second-round pick.
The move came as somewhat of a surprise considering Detroit wasn’t in a position to sell high on Mantha, who had been a healthy scratch recently. Meanwhile, the same could be said for Vrana while Panik had recently cleared waivers. On the surface, none of these players seemed like potential change of scenery candidates and yet combined for the biggest deal of the deadline.
From Washington’s standpoint, while Mantha is the bigger name, the numbers between him and Vrana are relatively similar in recent years. Going back to 2018-19, Mantha has averaged 0.70 points per game and Vrana 0.65 despite Mantha logging nearly four minutes more per game in ice time. Mantha has battled multiple injuries over that span and has played in 38 fewer games. So why do they do the deal? Finances would seem to have a lot to do with it.
Vrana is a restricted free agent this summer and is in line for a raise on his $3.35MM AAV; it’s not entirely implausible to think he could look at Mantha’s $5.7MM price tag through 2023-24 as the ballpark range for a target. At that price, he’d be more difficult for the Capitals to move and they’d have had a hard time fitting him in with Panik’s $2.75MM for two more years on the books as well. Now they have Mantha in that spot for three years at a fixed price tag with an underperforming contract gone as well.
As for Detroit, their motivation is a bit clearer. They get a similarly productive player in Vrana who they hope can be more productive with more ice time. With plenty of cap space, they can easily afford the raise he’ll get this offseason and it’s worth noting that the 25-year-old does have arbitration eligibility. It also allowed them to absorb Panik’s deal without any concerns and the veteran should be able to contribute as well. Getting those two assets plus first- and second-round picks gives them the potential for comparable production now and future pieces of the puzzle down the road.
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