Assessing The Anthony Mantha and Jakub Vrana Trade 16 Months Later

Photo: NHL via Getty Images

At the trade deadline for the 2021 NHL regular season, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan made a last-minute deal with the Detroit Red Wings, sending fan favorite Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a 2021 first round pick and a 2022 2nd round pick in return for Anthony Mantha.

MacLellan looked to acquire some cost certainty with a top-six forward in Mantha with Vrana heading to restricted free agency with arbitration rights. Vrána also fell into poor favor with head coach Peter Laviolette. Additionally, the Capitals sought to get out from under the Panik contract that didn’t pan out the way MacLellan and the Capitals had pictured when signing him in free agency in the summer of 2019.

In this post, we’ll re-evaluate the blockbuster of the 2021 trade deadline. The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Evolving Hockey and Natural Stat Trick. The contract information is courtesy of CapFriendly. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHLAnalytics Glossary.

Rationale Behind the Trade

Many fans across social media had harsh reactions to the package required to acquire Mantha and to unload the Panik contract. Mantha had been a bona-fide top-six winger for the rebuilding Red Wings and was considered to be a bedrock of their young core with Dylan Larkin at the time. Moving a young forward in Vrana was tough enough to swallow, but MacLellan also had to part with two premium draft picks: a 2021 first rounder and a 2022 second round pick.

In return, the Capitals freed up future cap space by moving out Panik’s contract, which had become burdensome. That contract, with a cap hit of $2.75M that didn’t expire until after the 2022-23 season, could have constrained the Capitals from making other moves, like re-signing franchise cornerstones in Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, who were nearing the end of their long-term deals.

On top of the financial side, it was clear that Vrana’s relationship with new bench boss Peter Laviolette had soured. Laviolette didn’t trust Vrana late in close games, and sometimes benched him for nearly entire periods due to defensive mishaps. In a March 9, 2021 game against the New Jersey Devils, Vrana seemed to stare down Laviolette after scoring the OT winner after being benched for large swaths of the game:

It seemed like the season’s worth of struggles in a relationship between a young player and his coach had come to a head at this point. Vrana, who was once looking like one of the future solid pieces of the franchise, seemed to be in Laviolette’s doghouse. He had less on-ice deployments, less ice time, and ultimately, it seemed like the relationship was not going to recover.

With the trade to Detroit, the Capitals relinquished the conflict in the locker room, while also solidifying cost certainty. Mantha’s contract with a cap hit of $5.7M doesn’t expire until after the 2023-24 season. The Capitals didn’t want to risk going to arbitration with a disgruntled and talented player who was a solid contributor to the 2018 Stanley Cup championship run.

MacLellan and the front office had let other players go to arbitration in the past, and it hasn’t turned out well. The most recent example had been Chandler Stephenson, who played a depth role on the Capitals but ended up getting a higher cap hit in arbitration than the Capitals were expecting. This was a large reason for MacLellan sending him out to Vegas for a paltry 5th-round pick in return.

The Capitals, being a veteran-led team, are going to be tight to the salary cap ceiling every season. Every dollar counts, and that’s why both Vrana and Panik were packaged with picks for Mantha. Mantha fit the team’s physical, big-bodied identity and has top-six capable scoring abilities.

The Red Wings were able to parlay moving out a player that likely wasn’t going to stay in Detroit for much longer for a younger talent that fits their team’s rebuilding timeline more, and two valuable picks. With the Capitals’ first they acquired, they were able to package picks to move up in the draft to take their potential goalie of the future in Sebastian Cossa.

Ultimately, time will tell if the move was the right one, but let’s take a look at the performances of Mantha and Vrana (with a bit of Panik’s sprinkled in) to understand the returns of the trade.

Offensive Production and Possession

Arguably, the most important statistical component that you’d look for in a top six scoring winger is their on-ice production. Let’s take a look at their scoring rates per sixty minutes during five on five play:

Over the past two seasons, Vrana has edged out Mantha in terms of production rates when normalized for sixty minutes of play. The other side of that is that Vrana had skated in fewer games and ultimately fewer minutes on the ice, which will skew the data.

In 26 games last season with the Red Wings, Vrana scored 13 goals, notched 6 assists for a total of 19 points. Mantha scored 9 goals, 14 assists for 23 points in 37 games last year, marred by a gruesome shoulder injury suffered early in the season in a tilt against the Panthers.

Now, let’s look at their on-ice possession and goals for percentages:

Over the past two seasons, Mantha has had very solid possession numbers, coming in above the 50% threshold for both Corsi For and Fenwick For shot attempts. Vrana struggled in this regard, where he was on the ice for more shot attempts against than attempted. This can be expected, though, since Vrana went from a playoff caliber team in Washington to a rebuilding squad in Detroit. Mantha had solid CF and FF percentages in Detroit prior to his final season there, so Mantha continued his trend of solid possession play.

Vrana’s value in GF% is a driving factor for a large portion of his overall value as a forward. He drives offensive production, and thus sees a higher percentage of goals scored than against. On the other hand, Vrana struggles defensively, so the quality of chances he’s on the ice against tips the scales into the sub-50% threshold we see here.

Goals Above Replacement Value

Now that we’ve looked at production, let’s take a look at these players’ goals above replacement (GAR) values, which rates their value above a replacement (average) level player. First, we’ll peek at their true GAR value, then we’ll look at their expected GAR value (xGAR).

These values confirm what we know about these players on ice. Vrana’s value is mainly (almost solely) derived from his even strength offensive ability, but his defensive performance reduces his overall value.

For Mantha, he is solid offensively during even strength, but has above replacement level value defensively, which ultimately brings his total GAR value slightly above Vrana’s. I included Panik’s values here to show why the Capitals had to unload him and pay picks to Detroit to take his contract.

Here’s their xGAR figures:

Vrana’s xGAR figures offensively are a lot higher than his actual GAR value, because he generates a lot of expected goals and chances with his overall offensive ability in a relatively low set of ice time. That drives his value up, but we also see that he’s still a below replacement level player defensively. Mantha is at a solid 11.9 xGAR, but doesn’t exactly blow anyone away with any of his GAR figures.

Conclusion

Trading Vrana out of DC was a tough pill for most fans to swallow. As a key part of the team’s sole Cup win and pinnacle of the Ovechkin era, trading Vrana was a shock. Unfortunately, with Vrana potentially entering restricted free agency with arbitration rights, the Capitals sought cost certainty and a top six player that fit the mold and the identity of the team.

Mantha fit that mold and had multiple years of team control remaining on his contract. Mantha added a bit more defensive stability with a slightly lower offensive production output, but with the other forwards on this team that can produce offensively, it seemed like a worthwhile move at the time. Time will tell if this is a trade that the Capitals end up regretting.

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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44 Responses to Assessing The Anthony Mantha and Jakub Vrana Trade 16 Months Later

  1. Anonymous says:

    Still another blemish on Mac’s record. He orchestrated the right cap and previous cost misjudgments. One of the two picks is the difference, and why Stevie Y fleeced Mac.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Definitely. The trade is digestible up to a point. Considering we needed to unload Panik deal, but there is an extra pick that is the clear difference with me. Yzerman is shrewd, built the Tampa dynasty and is now looking pretty good with his development of Detroit.

  2. Nick B says:

    I wasn’t reaply mad about it at the time, due to Vrana being the guy who was always in the right place and almost never brought it home. But I expected more out of Mantha so far. He has shining moments, but has been very inconsistent.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Definitely fair, Nick. I expected more as well. I’m gonna give him a slight break for injury this past season, but he needs to produce this season. This ain’t Detroit!

      • steven says:

        Both players were coming off almost identical injuries and sad to say but the difference is noticable. Mantha in 37 games scored a total of 23 points (9 G and 14 A) and Varna in 26 games scored 19 points (13 G and 6 A). Sad to say but the year before after the trade Varna scored 8 G and 3 A, while Mantha had 4G and 4A. To me it looks like Varna has more scoring potential and that GMBM traded a player along with a player that they didnt want and 2 extremely high draft picks, which are the worst part of the deal. Age wise Mantha is 1 year older however his salary is $500K more which means that the Caps gave up two picks and 2 players fand it cost them $500Kmore than if they have just signed a true scorer! So all in all A great fleece job by StevieY. Good thing both of them are UFA after the 23/24 season. Going to be interesting to see how the 2 players for the first round pick that GMBM send to Detroit turn out as Detroit traded that pick to Dallas to move up and take Sebastian Cossa (G) and Dallas took Wyatt Johnston (C). In the 22 draft Detroit took Dmitri Buchelnikov. Its going to be very interesting to watch and see how these players develop compared to how Mantha does this year and next and do the Caps even resign him in 2 years (personally at his current rate of production I say NO).

        • LeftWing says:

          Good points, kind of a word salad at the end but it’s going to be interesting to see the same eval after next year.

          • steven says:

            I think what I dislike most about the trade is giving up 2picks when the 2nd rounder should have done or even a 3rd. It is so easy to fleece GMBM. Isnt it time to get not only a new GM but a whole new front office! maybe include the HC and his staff in that but keep Allen and see how the new GM likes him. Need to start the rebuildand start with the front office and coaching staff rather than just keeptrying to make the playofffs and exiting in the 1st round and thus delaying the rebuild and only making it last longer.

      • Steviem says:

        Lol. you wish it was Detroit pal. Want to compare history? Didn’t think so.

        • Anonymous says:

          Anything in the color television era? I didn’t think so. Sit your ass down.

          • Stevie fleeced the Caps says:

            Lol, wow it’s like 2008 is somehow ancient history…..unlike your top line which is about ready for the 4pm dinner rush. Enjoy watching the Wings pass up the Caps this year.

            This whole discussion is pretty silly, Detroit won this trade a season ago and it’s not even close. At this point, Caps fans and media are just trying to talk themselves into it not being a complete fleecing.

      • Matt Smith says:

        You’re right, you’re not Detroit. Mantha was dealt from Detroit because he didn’t produce, Blashill is gone as coach for the same reason. While you have cap trouble, Yzerman signed several free agents and still has $10 million along with great young talent from deals like that. Thanks for the draft picks, one of those turned into Sebastian Cossa.

        • Anonymous says:

          Yeah, but you got Vrana, who is a coach killer, lazy ass. Good luck with that.

          • Stevie fleeced the Caps says:

            Hasn’t shown to be lazy even a little bit. Laviolette is supposed to be a master motivator isn’t he?

    • Don says:

      As a Detroit fan, it was always frustrating to watch Mantha. He would be the absolute best player in the league one game and then would not show up for the next 10. Consistency is his biggest down side.

      • Anonymous says:

        Vrana is exactly the same. Showed glimpses of top level player, but he just didn’t seem interested for a whole season. He also has issues with coaches all the way back to Hershey, Czech national team, Trotz, Laviolette. He just has a problem with authority

      • Jon Sorensen says:

        Don, here is an honest take on why Vrána had to go. Dives into his problematic history, etc. something to keep an eye on in Detroit. Hopefully he grows up.

        https://novacapsfans.com/2021/04/18/final-musings-on-the-trade-of-jakub-vrana/

        • Steve says:

          Laviolette gets the W here. He benched Vrana when he needed to and in OT he came on the ice with something to prove, then landed the game winner. When you’re part of a team you need to think more about the team than yourself. V thought about himself, coaching used it how they needed in this instance.

          • novafyre says:

            I put 70% of the blame on Vrana, but I admit I do not like Lavi’s tendency to shove players into his doghouse. Look at how he treated our younger players last year.

            In an interview, Jon Cooper talked how he had talked with problem players, how hard it was to do it, and how even harder it was to sometimes admit that he was wrong. But he made it a priority and worked out issues with players in a way that I do not believe that Lavi can. Tampa then went on to win 2 Cups with those players. It is a skill. Don’t think it would have worked with Vrana thus 70% of the blame. But I think Lavi’s personality and makeup will lose us more players, players we could have and should have kept.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It’s the lack of effort in Mantha’s game that puts a bad taste in my mouth. I’m over him but will be pleased if he turns it on this season.

  4. DWGie26 says:

    Good writeup here. This trade was more than just the two players. You have to consider the chemistry in the room and relationship with coach which was untenable. You can blame it on Lavi, but reality is the players work for the coach so its just as much (if not more) on the player to fit into the system. Plus as noted, there was a cost control element which had value to us hence one of the picks. The other pick was to offload Panik. What most people forget is that at the time of signing Panik, many in the media thought Panik was one of the best underrated signings and we did term instead of AAV to save Cap space. Clearly it didn’t work out.

    But think of it this way. If you are an Angel investor or VC, you place bets on companies that are relatively risky. You have access to all kinds of data (fancy stats), you have past performance, growth projections, market TAMs and you place your bet. But investors lose money more often than make money. In baseball if you hit .333 you go to the hall of game.

    Hoping for healthy seasons for both and then we can judge a bit more. To me Mantha showed flashes of what we want but still lacks consistency. I think Mantha is one of the pivotal players this year. If he is really good, then the Caps will be very strong. If he is average, Caps will be average. This is truly his year to make an impact.

    • Anonymous says:

      His inability to step up is why he was shipped out.

    • steven says:

      Its easier to trade players than to admit that you made a mistake in the HC hiring. This would have never happened if Ted had not been an arse in 2018 and refused to pay Trotz. Why is it always the players fault i hockey when in baseball and most other sports its the HC who is fired. Seems that Ted and his GM dig their heels in about a HC, mostof the time, and move players and pickslike they frow on trees. As for your statement about this being his year to make an impact I agree but I dont think that the lazy in him will change and the HC seems fine with that.

  5. Anonymous says:

    It comes down to Mantha vs. Vrana in the end; Can either stay healthy and play to their potential? The Cossa pick will look good or bad when Ovi is enjoying stoli in Turkey and the Caps are rebuilding anyway..

  6. Anonymous says:

    Not just with Lavi. Even Trotz and Reirden had benched him often back in the prior years. Even during the cup run at times his ice time was reduced he was under achieving in DC. And a headache for all the coaches That caps were not going to sign him going forward so yes the Caps made the trade but also needed to rid of Panik. I think the caps had hoped for a better deal but this was the only team willing to give the caps a top 6 forward that they liked but trade dead lines are tough Detroit was probably the only one willing to take Panik and trade for decent value for Varana. Detroit was desperate for a goal scorer. Short sample this past season for both players. Mantha came back and the caps got back to playing good hockey. The Caps was in mess for 6 weeks all of January into mid February. People was wondering if the Caps was in danger of missing the post season and having a big collapse after a great 40 games into. It did cost then seeding in a tough division however. Had Mantha been healthy 100 points maybe turns into 110. And we’re not facing Florida in the first round. To many injuries this season backstrom playing with his hip after missing 1/2 the season. It just wasn’t a good year for the caps to put up a good run. And this season coming up already with backstrom again will be out hopefully his surgery is successful and can get back to 100% along with Tom Wilson for a cup run. The signings made should keep the Caps competitive for that first 1/2 the season. And back to Varana while he made a nice mark scoring goals for Detroit in that short span they had nothing to play for so they let there new player turn loose. Let’s see if Varana can handle it over 82 games no doubt he’s capable of scoring 30 goals. We all hoped he would in DC but he never did. So can he with his new team have to see. And also we will see if the Detroit catching staff gets tired of his defensive liability. Scoring 30 goals is nice but Varana does go through games where you just outright doesn’t give an ounce of effort on the defensive side of the game. If Detroit wants to get competitive again and be a cup contender. Can they really turn a blind eye do a defensive liability player like Varana. Caps fans knows the answer to this from the years back in 2009-2014. When they could score at will but always had question marks could this defense keep the puck out of there net when a team matched them taking away their time and space playoff hockey. Long I know sorry about that and let’s go caps

    • steven says:

      Everythind that Varna does except score Mantha does…..lazy and disappera for long streaches or even games at a time. I would rather have kept the picks and let Varna walk at the end of the year like Sammy did this year rather than give up picks and take on salary. A younger player could have filled that slot or even someone on a 1 or 2 year deal. As for Panik he was just a bad sign and only had 2 years where he was worth what he was paid and none by washington.

  7. Lance says:

    I like Mantha. He makes the team better.

    Vrana is all offense. His game only works when he’s scoring. He’s not a great passer and he doesn’t play physical and he doesn’t play defense. If a player scores 40+ goals that’s arguably worth it.

    As for the trade, I hate giving up first round draft picks. Especially with this ridiculous and stupid AF salary cap. You’ve gotta find guys with those draft picks and get 4 or 5 inexpensive years from them.

    Then again, they wanted to dump Panik (a mistake signing).

    Would I make that trade again? I don’t think I would because of the draft picks. BMac could’ve managed the assets better in this case.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Just another example of this organization unloading young talent because of managements lack of patience, and obsession with older “established” players, perfect example, the Chara experiment, which led them to literally give away a legitimate top two (stay home) defender in Jonas.

  9. Anonymous says:

    put up or shut up time for ol mantha…no 19 or 43 so he needs to be the man. if he doesn’t step up, we are likely sunk for this year.
    it baffles me how he clearly is fast and big and has good hands but disappears for such long stretches of game time.
    6’5″ and 235 and can skate like the wind and has a great shot.
    time to man up and play bro. no excuses

    • steven says:

      His modn wanders to things other than the game for fames at a time. However like you said the GM and HC here have an obsesion with “experienced”players and willtrade for them and to be honest it looks like it doesnt matter the cost in draftpicks or players as they play for the “NOW” with little orno thought to the future.

  10. RICHARD L HINES says:

    Pretty much a useless article. Summation? Time will tell? I thought that was the intention the article, to make a call?

  11. Steven Ramsey says:

    Yzerman dumped Mantha because he wouldn’t be a better two way player. He was overpaid and then became complacent in his lack of effort. Stevie fleeced the Caps.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Vrána was dumped for similar reasons – has issues with coaches, takes games off, etc. The fleecing is in the one additional pick.

      • steven says:

        Never herd of Varna having issues with his coaches until Lav came here and his coaches in the CZE. Maybe some players can play and play well in an exporong contract and it is obvious Varna cannot. Mantha disappears not just during the game but for games at a time. Varna may not be the best on D but then again neither was Ovie when he first entred the league. How long does this team and its fans and the players have to pay for bad GM decisions and catering to a HC who does not like young players when this team is getting ready to start arebuild?

        • Anonymous says:

          Just goggle Trotz benching Varana you’ll find many old articles in 2017 and 2018. Caps had so many issues with him that’s why the signed him only to a 2 year bridge contract extension cause they wanted to see improvement as a player 2 years later he didn’t answer the call so the caps got rid of him. Don’t get me wrong fully on this Manthas contract is a bit steep to my liking as well. And yeah 2 draft picks to dump Panik was also kinda steep price. But Caps really are in Win now mode for the next 3 or so years if they can remain competitive 100 point+ seasons that’s how it’s going to go till ovechkin retires. I’m sure the Caps soon after will blow up the remaining stars after that and go into a full rebuild. They may try to keep it going with Wilson and kuzy for awhile but. I believe Ted knows free agents are not the way to go after Jagr. I’m sure also the Caps are watching closely on many of these aging players and when. Ellar, Oshie etc. As much I love those 2 I hope they have good seasons. We need Ellar this year due to brackstrom out and know idea of when his return. But I see ellar as a trade possible if backstrom gets back and healthy Even the others Kuzy Mantha if they will be watching them year to year Kuzy was under fire before last year. He was hard to trade but given his contract is shorter and more a bargain for a top center he’s a possibility to trade again if he doesn’t maintain a high level of play. Mantha has this year to step up he did decent given he played minimal games but was still productive at times but not consistent while his game is good the stats above show that. He needs to get more involved every game more physical or a net presences making it difficult for goalies or draw penalities, win the board battles. Or just getting on the score sheet. He can do all that this is the year to prove it to the Caps otherwise the caps can trade him just the same or it’s almost 6 mil in cap space for the caps to look for something else. Every year going forward the caps should be looking to drop 2+ players and replace there not going to be looking for draft picks or young potential future projects it’s win now mode untill this caps core can’t manage it. They want a seasoned players. The next area after Ovechkin can wait till then

  12. Anonymous says:

    Make a deal with Stevie Y at your own perril.
    You know you’re going to be robbed :-).
    Why couldn’t they just buy out Panik?
    Ultimately, the article doesn’t get at whether Caps would have made the playoffs without this move. What other options were there at the time? Obviously, the failure in playoffs doesn’t justify the trade, unless he somehow plays better next year.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is spot on.

    • steven says:

      My question is: How long does this team and its fans and the players have to pay for bad GM decisions and catering to a HC who does not like young players when this team is getting ready to start arebuild? When willTed wake up and realize that his bad decisions to be loayl to long time employees and his need to be in the playoffs rather than rebuild in 2020 have caused this team real damage? Isnt it time to clean house in the front office and behind the bench? Get younger people in those positions with fresh ideas!!

  13. Rob says:

    Giving up a future second rounder to dump Panik’s contract was painful but good business. Giving up Vrana (youth, speed, etc.) straight up for Mantha (uhhh, tall) would be painful enough, but including a 1st is devastating for a team with few promising prospects. I can only assume the GM thought a fresh start or coaching could light a fire under Mantha, but he’s hard to watch….especially when he is out there with heart guys like Osh or Sheary. You would think their effort would be contagious, but it doesn’t seem to stick. I imagine the Caps would give him away to get rid of his contract at this point. Hopefully Strome and Brown fit in well, and if/when Backy and Big Willy come back, we have some depth. Hate to see the OV era end without a bang.

  14. Anonymous says:

    We took them to the cleaners on the Jensen trade…

  15. DWGie26 says:

    I do think we’ll see Mantha at 1RW in camp and to start the season. Put Brown and Sheary on Strome’s wings which would give that line balance. Mantha has a chance to right some wrongs. Hope he rises to the occasion.

  16. Stevie Y says:

    Caps fans here saying Vrana is a floater but then saying Mantha is defensive?! Yeah, Vrana has been playing surrounded by an AHL team and Mantha was playing with Backstrom and Oshie at the end of the year. Mantha should absolutely have more points, but he doesn’t.

    Vrana came with Cossa and now Dmitri Buchelnikov, who has the ability to score from Ovi’s office on the PP often on his highlight reel.

    This was a fleece and to call it anything else is just wrong.

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