NBC’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with the Sunday matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings. Lightning-Red Wings coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
The biggest — and most shocking — move at the NHL trade deadline was easily the Red Wings sending Anthony Mantha to the Capitals for a massive package of picks and players that was centered around Jakub Vrana.
It was a refreshing trade to see for a lot of reasons. For one, it was a blockbuster that was completely unexpected, something we do not usually see a lot of come trade deadline time. It was also the type of hockey trade that can make a massive impact for both teams and help every side. The Capitals got an established, power forward that fits their style of play. The Red Wings got two long-term assets (a first-and second-round pick), a veteran that could flip next season (Richard Panik) and a potential start to add to their rebuild (Vrana).
For now, let’s focus on that latter point and the addition of Vrana.
It has only been eight games, but Vrana has already brought a dimension to the Red Wings’ lineup that it was seriously lacking.
Entering Sunday’s game against the Lightning he has already scored six goals, not including his slick shootout goal on Saturday against the Lightning in Detroit’s stunning 1-0 win.
Even more than the production, he has brought excitement to a lineup that has been desperately lacking it. Some of his goals has have been highlight reel plays. He looks like a threat to score on almost every shift. In just eight games he is already one of the top goal-scorers on the Red Wings team (only five players have more goals than his six with the team, and he is only five off the team lead).
The Red Wings are still in the very early stages of their rebuild and still in the process of adding young talent to the roster. Some of their top prospects have not yet arrived, while a player like Filip Zadina has not yet taken a big step forward in his development. They not only need some more players they can build around, they need players that can be difference-makers.
Vrana certainly has that ability, and there really is not much of a mystery as to what he can do given what he has already shown in the NHL. He is already a legit top-line winger that has scored at a 30-goal pace (per 82 games) since the start of the 2018-19 season. That production has come while mostly playing on a loaded Capitals team where he never averaged more than 15 minutes of ice-time per game and had seemingly fallen out of favor this season.
With an opportunity to be one of the focal points of the offense in Detroit and get top ice-time there seems to be an entirely different level of untapped potential that could be unleashed. So far, things are off to a great start for both him and the Red Wings.
He is a restricted free agent after this season and should be in line for a significant raise from his current $3.35 million per yer salary, but the Red Wings have almost no long-term commitments and can easily handle that.
(It might be worth noting that Mantha’s set salary cap number for the next few years, which might end up being less than Vrana’s next salary cap number, is one of the positives of this deal for the Capitals).
If you are going to trade a player like Mantha you need to make sure you are getting a significant return to make it worth it.
The Red Wings were able to do just that, not only with the additional draft pick capital to add to their cupboard, but by also getting another potential established building block. Assuming they can keep him long-term, Vrana should be a significant part of the Red Wings’ future alongside Dylan Larkin, and recent first-round picks Lucas Raymond, Moritz Seider, and (assuming they develop as hoped) Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno.