I started mentally putting this post together just as today’s NHL trade deadline passed but held off on actually writing it for a little bit, knowing how trades often aren’t announced until well after the actual deadline.
That was somewhat fortuitous, given that the Red Wings’ biggest deadline deal wasn’t officially announced until 45 minutes post-deadline, when the team confirmed that Anthony Mantha had been traded to the Washington Capitals for Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a first-round pick this year, and a second-round pick next year.
As I said in my write-up of the deal, I can’t stand Panik. I hope he’s made available in the expansion draft and, for some reason, the Kraken take him and his contract. But I’m curious about Vrana in a top-line role with this team. I also think the Wings’ rebuild probably won’t work with third and fourth round picks alone so getting the first and second from Washington is important.
Detroit’s previous deals were to send Jon Merrill to the Montreal Canadiens, Patrik Nemeth to the Colorado Avalanche, and to help facilitate the Columbus Blue Jackets’ trade of David Savard to the Tampa Bay Lightning. These were all players on expiring contracts or just salary cap space and, while fourth and fifth rounders aren’t sexy (and, as I said, probably aren’t enough on their own to facilitate a rebuild), they’re essentially free picks and you take those every time.
It’s the deals that didn’t happen that bother me about this deadline, as they have with every deadline since the Red Wings became sellers.
For years we’ve been told to just wait for some of Detroit’s players to hit the final year of their contracts and we’d see them flipped at the deadline. Mike Green, Jimmy Howard, Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson. Of them, only Green netted anything, and that was on his second expiring contract with Detroit after everyone passed the first time around due to him being injured.
This year was supposed to be the year for flipping vets for picks. Bobby Ryan, Jon Merrill, Patrik Nemeth, Marc Staal, Sam Gagner, Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, Valtteri Filppula, Jonathan Bernier. All on expiring deals. But then, like Green before him, Ryan got hurt. Like Howard, no market developed for Bernier. Merrill and Nemeth were moved but no one called on the league’s leading faceoff man in Glendening, playoff performer Helm, or versatile veteran Gagner.
As I said in 2019, “I get that you can’t trade for things that other teams don’t want to give you.” If there wasn’t a trade to be made, then there wasn’t a trade to be made, and that’s that. But as I also said then, “I think that’s the part that’s depressing to me. Not that the Wings were sellers. Not that the team is in a rebuild. That they’re sellers with not much to sell, so they can’t get big pieces back for the rebuild.”
The Red Wings sold Mantha because he was the only piece anyone wanted, much like when they moved Tomas Tatar in 2018. Both the Mantha and Tatar deals were good deals but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard to look at the big picture and think it wasn’t enough.
Especially when, back in the final years of the Red Wings’ playoff streak, a Glendening or Helm or Gagner or Staal is exactly the kind of player then-GM Ken Holland would have paid a hefty price to acquire for a postseason push. Is Staal really that different from Marek Zidlicky or Gagner that different from Erik Cole? Squinting a little, are Glendening or Helm that far off from the David Legwand the Red Wings acquired (rather than the one he had been for years up to that point)?
Nine years ago, Paul freakin’ Gaustad fetched a first-rounder when he was sent from the Sabres to the Predators. Now no one wants Glendening. And you know what? That’s smart. Gaustad never was worth that much and Glendening isn’t, either. But it’s hard to see buyers giving up that much when the Red Wings were buyers but now that the Wings are sellers, the market has changed.
Blame the flat cap, blame Detroit just not having good enough players to sell. Whatever it is, it doesn’t make it easy to see.
Like many Caps fans, I’m rooting hard for Vrana to finally get a chance to show what might make him an elite sniper in this league. And, by doing something few players have done — score 4 goals in a game — I believe you begin to see the potential. Vrana simply didn’t get the ice time here in DC. Is he on a line with Larkin? Will he be on the first line going forward? I think he deserves that chance. Mantha is the opposite: he didn’t thrive as being “the guy” and so now he gets to fly under the radar a bit on a second line. So far his skills have dovetailed very nicely with our cerebral and very underrated center Nick Backstrom. Backstrom likes to slow the game down and pick teams apart. Death by a thousand cuts becomes death by a thousand ten foot passes in tight space. Eventually the open up the defense. Mantha seems to have been made for playing with him and they have already formed a dynamic partnership. If I’m not mistaken, they are already over a goal per game as a line.