The Capitals have bandied moving winger Anthony Mantha and his $5.7MM cap hit throughout much of the last two seasons after he struggled with injuries and failed to recapture his production from his first-line days in Detroit. With this year’s trade deadline less than two weeks away, there may finally be a match for Mantha to move elsewhere with no term left on his contract, reports David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period.
Mantha, 29, had a disastrous campaign last year, dropping a career-worst points-per-game pace with 27 in 67 games and falling out of the lineup entirely at points. He’s rebounded somewhat in 2023-24, at least in the goal-scoring department. His 18 markers in 52 games rank second on the team, although his overall point production of 29 isn’t what you’d hope for at his price tag.
His possession numbers have seen a massive jump, though, posting a +7.1 expected rating and 51.3 CF% at even strength, the latter of which leads all Capitals forwards with more than 10 games played. He’s done so in easier minutes, averaging only 13:51 per game. While he does see some defensive usage 5-on-5, making 54.7% of his even-strength zone starts in the defensive end, he hasn’t seen any penalty kill usage with Washington this year. Most of his time has been spent on a line with youngsters Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas, whose unit leads the team with a 57.4 expected goals percentage among Caps lines with over 100 minutes together, per MoneyPuck.
The Capitals sit eight points behind the Lightning for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, but they have four games in hand on their former Southeast Division rivals. Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic and TSN reported Friday that Washington was undecided on their trade deadline strategy and would wait until further down the schedule before deciding to sell off their pending UFAs and hamper their chances of making the playoffs. The math isn’t in their favor despite the games in hand, however – a tough schedule and poor advanced numbers have the Capitals with just an 11.1% chance at the playoffs, per MoneyPuck, behind other wild-card hopefuls such as the Devils and Penguins.
Washington is 4-3-3 in their last ten games, a pace they’ll need to improve upon. With injuries piling up to depth forwards like Nic Dowd and T.J. Oshie, plus multiple games against key playoff competitors like Pittsburgh and Detroit in the coming days, they’ll need some big performances from core pieces Alex Ovechkin, Dylan Strome, and John Carlson to make a miracle happen. Mantha himself is dealing with a lower-body injury and will be a game-time decision tonight against the Senators, the team said. However, head coach Spencer Carbery said there’s a “good chance” he draws in after leaving Saturday’s overtime loss to the Panthers prematurely.
A Mantha move would likely start a domino effect of Washington’s other major pending UFAs – defenseman Joel Edmundson and wingers Nicolas Aubé-Kubel and Max Pacioretty – finding new homes by the March 8 deadline. Pagnotta says multiple teams have called about Mantha, namely the Avalanche, Maple Leafs and Oilers. All three teams would need Washington to retain a solid chunk of Mantha’s cap hit to swing a deal, which the Capitals are free to do with all three retention slots open. Colorado has extremely limited space, even with captain Gabriel Landeskog on LTIR, and would likely need to move money out and have a third team retain money in a Mantha trade to make an acquisition work.
With the Capitals still in the playoff race, albeit barely, they’re likely still in the “taking calls” stage on Mantha rather than actively shopping him. They still have 11 days to make a decision before the deadline.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports.