Detroit — General manager Steve Yzerman went big in the final minutes of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
The Wings traded forward Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals for forwards Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick.
The move sent shockwaves around the NHL during an otherwise uneventful finish to the trade deadline.
“We are obviously rebuilding our organization, our team, and I felt this was an opportunity that came along to add draft picks to it but still kind of try to win as many games as possible,” Yzerman said in a Zoom call with media. “We’re trying to add draft picks and prospects to expedite, or aid, the rebuild that we’re under and this was an opportunity to acquire picks but still keep our team as competitive as possible.
“We feel we get a replacement for the offense we are losing, in losing Anthony and acquiring Jakub…as well as Richard Panik, who can play in a variety of roles.”
Yzerman had discussions with a “very small group of teams” regarding Mantha, who appeared to regress this season.
Mantha, 26, signed a four-year contract worth $22.8 million before the season but has had a disappointing year.
Despite scoring 20-plus goals twice in his career, Mantha only has 11 goals and 10 assists in 42 games this season. He was a healthy scratch one game and didn’t take a bigger step forward despite earning the contract last summer.
“You look around the league and there’s a lot of real good players that are having funny years, some guys are having unbelievable years, and there are some real good players that we’d all say are underperforming,” Yzerman said. “This is a chance to get a similar age player. Jakub is two years (until unrestricted) free agency, we have a little bit of flexibility there. We felt if we can get a replacement for Anthony and add prospects as well, it was a fit for a trade.
“Anthony is a really talented player and I hope he does well and I expect him to do well in Washington. But we thought this trade makes sense for us in the near term and moving forward. We were able to get a replacement for Anthony, similar age, and add assets as well.
“We want good players and Anthony is a good player and Jakub Vrana is a good player.”
Vrana, 25, is a left wing who has 11 goals and 14 assists this season in 39 games. The former 2014 first-round pick had 25 goals and 27 assists in 69 games in Washington last season, and has twice scored over 20 goals in a season in his career.
But Vrana also has been a healthy scratch in Washington this season and has been criticized for lack of defense. With Washington’s salary cap crunch, he was a piece that became marketable for trade.
Vrana is in the second year of a $6.7 million contract ($3.5 million salary cap hit) and can be restricted free agent this summer.
“It’s fair to say both of them (Vrana and Mantha) were underperforming from their historical stats, points, goals, point production, but we’re hoping Jakub can play a bigger role on our team and thrive in that,” Yzerman said.
Panik, 30, is a right wing who has three goals and six assists in 36 games this season.
Panik is in the second year of a four-year, $11 million contract ($2.75 million cap hit) and is a versatile player who could fill different roles among the forwards.
Yzerman did most of his other trade work over the weekend, while many of the Wings’ potential rentals stayed put.
Potential unrestricted free agents such as goaltender Jonathan Bernier, defenseman Marc Staal and forwards Luke Glendening, Darren Helm and Sam Gagner all remained in Detroit.
There was tepid interest, at best, with many contending teams in a salary cap crunch, a quarantine issue for players heading into Canadian-market teams, and teams who aren’t locks to make the playoffs not wanting to add salary.
“It was very strange,” Yzerman said. “Generally teams in our position, for the most part, are looking to move as many free agents as you can. This is a different year than others. The market was a little bit different, every team is different in what they want to do, and the reasons for doing it.
“I’m pleased with the trades we did make.”
Even on Monday, when the most phone calls generally occur, Yzerman’s cell phone was quiet.
“No, not really,” Yzerman said when asked whether he was close to any other deals. “It was relatively, extremely quiet. Other than Anthony, we got a couple of late calls on things that didn’t really make sense for us to do.”
Over the weekend, the Yzerman traded defenseman Jon Merrill to Montreal for a 2021 fifth-round pick and prospect forward Hayden Verbeek and dealt defenseman Patrik Nemeth to Colorado for a 2022 fourth-round draft pick.
The Wings also got a 2021 fourth-round pick from Tampa for working as a middleman between Tampa Bay and Columbus and taking on some salary of defenseman David Savard’s contract (Savard landed in Tampa).
Yzerman touched on several other issues in his first meeting with the media this regular season:
►On the future of coach Jeff Blashill, who doesn’t have a contract beyond this season: “Jeff and I will sit down very quickly after the season and discuss that.”
►On whether Yzerman has begun discussions to bring back some of the unrestricted free agents on the Wings’ roster: “My plan right now is to wait. I have interest, potentially, on renegotiating or signing new contracts with some of our free agents. I can’t say all of them, or which ones, at this point, so I’m going to wait until the end of the season and kind of re-evaluate where we’re at.”
►As to whether prospects such as Moritz Seider, Joe Veleno (who has been assigned to Grand Rapids) and Jonatan Berggren could return to North America and play some games for the Wings before the season ends.
All three are playing in Sweden — Veleno actually returned last weekend after his team was eliminated in the playoffs — but there are issues involved.
“We’ll wait on some of the other kids. We do have a bit of an issue with foreign kids with visas trying to get them into the United States, so that can be a bit of a challenge,” Yzerman said. “We’re looking into that if some of these kids are available, could we potentially bring them over. But it’s a bit of a stumbling block, or deterrent, something that may delay it and if the delay is long enough, there’s no point of them coming over. We’re kind of taking it day to day.”
Seider’s team (Rogle) is a favorite to win the Swedish Elite League and could be playing until the NHL regular season is over.
“We want him to win a championship over there and I want him to play. It would be great for him and his team, so I hope he can go as long as he can,” said Yzerman, adding the Wings would work to bring Seider over if an opportunity does arise to do so.
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