NHL insiders react to ‘stunning’ Capitals trade for Anthony Mantha

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Andrew Gillis
·4 min read
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NHL insiders react to ‘stunning’ Capitals trade for Anthony Mantha originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

With a few minutes to go before the 3 p.m. trade deadline, all was quiet on the Capitals’ front.

And then, in the minutes after the deadline had passed, the Capitals and Detroit Red Wings created pandemonium that reverberated throughout the entire National Hockey League. 

First, it was reported that the Capitals acquired forward Michael Raffl from the Philadelphia Flyers for a 5th round pick. But that move was quickly overshadowed by the trade of the day, as the Capitals reportedly acquired winger Anthony Mantha from the Red Wings for Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick.

The club confirmed both trades soon after.

The Capitals added size and guaranteed contract stability to their lineup, but in doing so sent shockwaves around the NHL.

“This is a whopper of a deal,” NHL insider Pierre LeBrun said on TSN’s TradeCentre show. “It’s not 20 years ago, we’re not used to having bonafide hockey deals on this day. We’re used to seeing rental players change teams, which is what 95 percent of what today was and over the past couple weeks. This was stunning, quite frankly.”

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Mantha, at 6-foot-5 and 234 pounds, has 11 goals and 10 assists in 42 games for the Red Wings this season.

While the merits of the trade, from a hockey perspective, are certainly being debated by analysts, the money aspect of the deal certainly played a factor in Washington.

“Really comes down to, from Washington’s perspective, two trades in one,” LeBrun said. “One is the reality of the flat cap environment. Richard Panik makes $2.75 million dollars for another two years after this year. In the flat cap, the Caps had to pay a price. Picture it this way: Panik plus one of those picks to Detroit. The other deal is pretty straight up: Vrana, who is a very good player, and one of the other picks for Mantha.”

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Mantha has a $5.7 million cap hit through the end of the 2023-2024 season. That means Washington won't have to negotiate a contract with Vrana, who is a restricted free agent this summer. 

Panik, whose contract doesn't expire until after the 2022-2023 season, has a cap hit of $2.75 million. The Capitals, assuming Vrana would make in excess of $3 million per season, will have saved money moving forward. And depending on Vrana’s ask, potentially a significant amount.

“A lot of general managers are talking about this one throughout the National Hockey League,” TSN's Bob McKenzie said, following LeBrun. “It is fascinating, and you can’t ignore that financial component of getting Panik’s money off the books for each of the next two seasons. It’s fascinating from a hockey perspective because, the two players, if you look at their goal totals, they’re very similar.”

Vrana, 25, who has 11 goals and 14 assists in 39 games this year, figures to immediately provide an influx of talent into the Red Wings system. But Mantha certainly fits the Capitals’ style of physical hockey. 

“Now, they’re completely different players in terms of their physical stature,” McKenzie continued. “Some of the (general) managers around the league are saying, ‘If Mantha is on his game, he is a much better player than Vrana because of that size and physical dimension that he can bring. But he’s not on that game consistently.’"

With the Red Wings in the midst of a serious rebuild, nearly everyone was on the block in Detroit, SportsNet reporter Elliotte Friedman said on NHL Network. 

“Vrana had fallen out of favor in the Capitals, and I think he’s a really good young player, and Mantha had clearly fallen out of favor with the Red Wings,” Friedman said. “You’ve got two young talented players here who both teams were willing to give a change of scenery to. I was surprised when it happened, but when I thought about it, it made a lot more sense when you take a look at everybody’s situation.”

Others, though, didn’t view the trade as much of a win for Washington -- or even a fair trade, at all. On TSN, Craig Button listed the Capitals as the deadline’s biggest loser.

“I don’t think the Washington Capitals in switching out Jakub Vrana for a bigger Anthony Mantha, who well-talked about, is inconsistent in everything you want. He’s not changing,” Button said. “He is what he is. He’s a really good goal-scorer. I don’t see the Washington Capitals as a better team.”