Photo: NHL via Getty Images
At the trade deadline for the 2021 regular NHL season, Washington Capitals general manager Brian McClellan struck a last-minute deal with the Detroit Red Wings, sending favorite Jacob Frana, and Richard Bannick, the 2021 first-round pick and the second-round pick in 2022. Anthony Mantha returns.
McClellan was looking to gain some cost confidence with Mantha’s top six forward as Franna heads to free agency restricted by arbitration rights. Franna also fell into disrepair with coach Peter Laviollette. In addition, Capitals sought to get out of Bannick’s contract which did not go the way McClellan and DC envisioned when he was signed to free agency in the summer of 2019.
In this post, we will re-evaluate the popular volume for the 2021 trade deadline. The stats used in this post are provided by Evolving Hockey and Natural Stat Trick. Contract information provided by CapFri Friendly. If you would like to learn more about the statistical terminology used in this post, please check out our NHLAnalytics Glossary.
The rationale behind the trade
Many fans across social media had harsh reactions to the package required to get Mantha and unload Panik’s contract. Mantha was one of the top six Red Wings to rebuild the wings, and was considered a cornerstone of their young core with Dylan Larkin at the time. Moving a young striker in Vrana was tough enough to swallow, but MacLellan also had to give up two excellent draw picks: a 2021 first round and a second 2022 round choice.
In return, The Capitals freed up future ceiling space by canceling Panik’s contract, which had become onerous. That contract, with a $2.75 million cap that did not expire until after the 2022-23 season, could have prevented the Capitals from making other moves, such as re-signing franchise cornerstones Niklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, who were nearing the end of their long-term deals.
On top of the financial side, it was clear that Varna’s relationship with new bench coach Peter Laviollette had soured. La Violet did not trust Varana late in the close matches, sometimes resisting him for almost entire periods due to defensive mishaps. In the March 9, 2021 game against the New Jersey Devils, Frana appeared to be staring at Laviolette after scoring an OT goal after being put off the bench in large swathes of the game:
Jacob Vrana….ssssss’ fast!!!! pic.twitter.com/lxsKAYIBx8
Washington Capitals March 10, 2021
It looked as if the struggles of the season in a relationship between a young player and his coach had come to a head at this point. Franna, who once looked like one of the future hard pieces of the franchise, appears to be in Laviolette’s kennel. He had fewer deployments on the ice, less ice time, and in the end, it seemed like the relationship wasn’t going to recover.
With the trade to Detroit, the capitals have given up conflict in the locker room, while also boosting cost certainty. Mantha’s contract with a ceiling of $5.7 million does not expire until after the 2023-24 season. The Capitals didn’t want to risk going to arbitration with the disaffected And the A talented player who was a strong contributor to the Stanley Cup 2018.
McClellan and the front office let the other players go to refereeing in the past, and it didn’t turn out well. The most recent example was Chandler Stevenson, who played deep in the Capitals but ended up getting a higher cap in judging than the Capitals expected. This was a big reason why he sent MacLellan to Vegas to pick a fifth-round trifle in return.
The Capitals, being a veteran-led team, will be tight on the maximum salary cap each season. Every dollar counts, which is why both Phrana and Banek are packed with picks for Mantha. Mantha fits the team’s big physical identity and has top six scoring abilities.
The Red Wings have managed to pull out a player who likely won’t be in Detroit much longer for a younger talent to fit into their schedule rebuilding their team more, and two valuable picks. With The Capitals first acquired, they were able to collect the picks to move higher in the draft to take on potential future goalkeeper Sebastian Kosa.
Ultimately, time will tell if the move is the right move, but let’s take a look at Mantha and Vrana’s performance (with a little Panik) to understand the returns of the trade.
Production and offensive possession
Arguably, the most important statistic you might look for in your top six goal scorers is their production on the ice. Let’s take a look at their average score per 60 minutes in five out of five games:
Over the past two seasons, Vrana has outperformed Mantha in terms of production rates when normalized for sixty minutes of play. The flip side of this is that Vrana has skated fewer games and ultimately fewer minutes on the ice, which will skew the data.
In 26 games last season with the Red Wings, Franna scored 13 goals, made 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 horrific shoulder injury he suffered early in the season against the Panthers.
Now, let’s take a look at their snowboard holdings and goals for percentages:
Over the past two seasons, Mantha has had very strong possession numbers, crossing the 50% threshold for both Corsi For and Fenwick for shot attempts. Vrana struggled in this regard, being on the ice for more shooting attempts against him than attempts. This can be expected, though, as Frana transitioned from a breakout caliber team in Washington to a rebuilding team in Detroit. Mantha had strong CF and FF pedigrees in Detroit prior to his last season there, so Mantha continued his trend of solid possession play.
Vrana’s value in GF% is a driving factor for a significant portion of its total value as a forward offering. He leads offensive production and therefore sees a higher percentage of goals scored than goals scored against him. On the other hand, Vrana struggles defensively, so the quality of chances he has on the ice in the face of tipping the scales into the 50% threshold we see here.
Objectives above replacement value
Now that we’ve looked at production, let’s take a look at these players’ goals above replacement values (GAR), which determine their value above the level of a replacement player (average). First we’ll peek at the real GAR value, then we’ll look at the expected GAR value (xGAR).
These values confirm what we know about these snowboarders. Vrana’s value stems mainly (roughly) from his equal offensive ability, but his defensive performance diminishes his overall value.
As for Mantha, he’s solid offensively through equal strength, but has a higher value than substitute level defensively, making his total GAR value slightly higher than Vrana’s. I’ve included Bannick’s values here to show why The Capitals had to offload and drive the picks to Detroit to take his contract.
Here are their xGAR numbers:
Vrana xGAR’s offensive numbers are much higher than the actual GAR value, because it generates a lot of expected goals and chances with its overall offensive ability in a relatively low range of icy time. This raises his value, but we also see that he is still an understated player defensively. Mantha is a solid 11.9 xGAR, but he doesn’t blow anyone away with any of his GAR characters.
Trading Vrana outside the capital was a tough pill for most fans to swallow. As a key part of the team’s only trophy win and climax in the Ovechkin era, Vrana’s trading came as a shocker. Unfortunately, with the prospect of Vrana entering a free agency restricted by arbitration rights, Team Capitals sought to ensure cost and top six players fit within the team template and team identity.
Mantha fits that mold and has several years of team control remaining on his contract. Mantha added more defensive stability with slightly less offensive production output, but with the other forwards on this team who could produce offensively, it seemed like a worthwhile move at the time. Time will tell if this is a deal that capitals will end up regretting.
Written by Justin Trudell