Explaining why the Capitals had to pay such a high price in the trade for Anthony Mantha

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J.J. Regan
·3 min read
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Explaining why the Caps had to pay such a high price in the trade for Mantha originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals made a big move on Monday and perhaps the biggest move of the entire deadline with the acquisition of Anthony Mantha from the Detroit Red Wings. In exchange, Washington is sending Detroit forwards Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick.

That seems like a steep price for one player, but that's not all that the Caps traded for. If you think general manager Brian MacLellan traded two players and two picks for Mantha, you are not thinking about this the right way.

So what did the Caps actually trade for?

First, obviously, they traded for Mantha. He is a skilled player with a big body which should fit in well in Washington. His production is comparable to Vrana (194 points in 302 games compared to Vrana's 157 points in 284 games).

But Mantha also comes with cost certainty, which Vrana does not. Mantha is on the first year of a four-year deal that carries a cap hit of $5.75 million.

Vrana was on the final year of his contract and due a significant raise on the $3.35 cap hit his current deal carries. He will be a restricted free agent, but will have arbitration rights and that is a dangerous proposition for a team dealing with a cap crunch in the offseason like the Caps are.

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The uncertainty of arbitration could have had a significant impact on the roster, such as forcing MacLellan to move a player late in the offseason depending on what an arbitrator decided to award Vrana.

MacLellan said Vrana's next contract "definitely" was a factor in the trade.

"[Vrana's] an RFA, he's got arbitration rights, he's got some good numbers," MacLellan said. "Projecting that salary, we get some cost certainty with Mantha so we know what his contract is. That played a factor in it, yes."

The other part of the deal the Caps are getting is moving Panik's contract.

Yes, Panik is a player going to Detroit. They are getting an NHL player who perhaps will play in their lineup and prove to be a good addition for them, but in terms of this trade, he as a player was not the asset being moved. The asset the Caps received was moving his contract.

A flat salary cap has put many NHL teams in a bind, including Washington. That situation has provided teams with extra cap space an opportunity to cash in.

Panik has not been the addition the Caps hoped he would be when he was signed in 2019 and he remains under contract through the 2022-23 season with a cap hit of $2.75 million. That's just too much for a player who doesn't seem to fit in the lineup and for a team that desperately needs to clear cap space.

When asked if trading Panik was about moving his contract, MacLellan answered yes.

"It never seemed to click for him here," MacLellan said.

To get Mantha, Washington needed to clear cap space. Panik was on the taxi squad, but that only cleared $1.075 million off the books. His remaining $1.675 million still counted against the cap. The Caps also needed to clear cap space in the future in order to re-sign players like Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Samsonov who are both in the final year of their contracts.

But moving salary comes at a cost and this is where Detroit cashed in.

It doesn't matter if Panik could benefit Detroit, the fact is the Caps needed to move his contract 

So a better way of viewing the trade is that Washington wanted to acquire Mantha and move Panik. Just trading for Mantha by himself would have had its own price tag, but adding in Panik's contract upped the price Washington had to pay Detroit to get the deal done.