The Jakub Vrana Era of the Detroit Red Wings is over, as the forward was traded to the St. Louis Blues on Friday morning in advance of the NHL Trade Deadline.
UPDATE: The Detroit #RedWings today acquired a 7th round pick in the 2025 NHL Entry Draft and center Dylan McLaughlin from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for left wing Jakub Vrana. pic.twitter.com/7mFmPX9iaK
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) March 3, 2023
This kind of move seemed inevitable but I’m still confused by it.
McLaughlin is a pending free agent who’s never played at the NHL level and has been reassigned right back to St. Louis’ AHL affiliate in Springfield. He’s a non-factor for Detroit. So the Wings are giving up on Vrana, paying cash to do so, and getting a seventh-round pick in return.
At the start of the season, things seemed fine between Vrana and the Red Wings. In fact, finally healthy, he was slated to play a big role for the team and scored two points in his first two games of the year. Then he entered the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program and was out until January.
When he came back, he was assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins on a conditioning stint, which made sense as he hadn’t played in nearly three months (and we don’t know if he was even skating in that time). He didn’t look good in his first several games (which also made sense, having not played for that amount of time) so his conditioning loan was extended for a week. But he was also placed on waivers, showing that something had happened to make the Red Wings okay with losing him for nothing.
He wasn’t claimed and continued to struggle at the AHL level for a bit before finally catching fire, seemingly getting his game back. He ended up with 11 points in 17 games with the Griffins, which isn’t amazing but seems fine to me for someone who hadn’t played for most of the season.
Then he got called up to Detroit, sat for a few more games, played a couple where he didn’t look great, sat again, and was shipped out.
Maybe it’s a matter of expectations. I didn’t expect him to look good coming off of that time in the Player Assistance Program. Players don’t go into that lightly, and the report is he didn’t want to go at all. He was clearly dealing with some deeply personal stuff and it should be expected that he wouldn’t come back from that at full speed.
The idea of the Player Assistance Program is that players can get help. As a society, we preach the value of getting help when you need it. This feels to me like Vrana being punished for getting that help.
Andrew Copp had a pretty bad start to the season, too. Everyone knew it was because he’d had offseason surgery and missed the entire preseason. To a certain extent, he got a pass because of that. But Vrana comes back slow after missing time because of a personal issue and how freaking dare he.
I don’t think it would have been unreasonable to call this season a loss for him, dump him back to Grand Rapids to find his game, and let him come back to Detroit next fall after a full summer to start over again at training camp, in a contract year. It’s entirely possible that there are unreported extenuating circumstances that would explain why that didn’t make sense to the Detroit organization but, given what we know, this whole thing just feels gross to me.