Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan made two deals on trade deadline day to try and make the team stronger headed into the postseason. MacLellan made one blockbuster trade, bringing the Red Wings’ Anthony Mantha to Washington in exchange for Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, and two high draft picks. He also acquired Michael Raffl from the Philadelphia Flyers for a fifth-round pick.
But the biggest headline of all was perhaps that the Capitals moved on from Jakub Vrana, a popular player amongst fans and a first-round pick that Craig Laughlin once said was destined for superstardom. Vrana, a member of the team’s 2018 Stanley Cup championship team, scored a career-high 25 goals and 52 points last season. Vrana was second on the Capitals in 5v5 goals (9) this season despite being a healthy scratch for two games and not getting much ice time from Peter Laviolette.
So what went wrong?
“He was a good young player,” MacLellan said in a press conference after the deals were announced. “We won a Cup. He’s a part of it. He’s a nice person. Highly skilled. Great speed. I think part of it was Jakub’s a little frustrated where he’s at here in the organization. Probably wants some more ice time. Wants more responsibility. There was a tug of war between coaching staff and staffs that have had him and the way he was playing. I think we had a frustrated player and we tried to move on from that.”
MacLellan explained that the Capitals had a conversation with the Detroit Red Wings about Mantha “a couple weeks ago” and the two clubs “continued to talk about him along the way. It came to fruition today.”
Vrana was a healthy scratched against the Devils on April 2 and April 4. The forward was challenged in the media by Peter Laviolette for his competitiveness. When Vrana returned, he seemed dispirited. He called the benching disappointing and said, “The only thing I can control is go out there and work my ass off.”
MacLellan revealed that while Vrana did not ask to be traded, he could tell how unhappy he was by how he looked.
“I see a frustrated player,” MacLellan said. “Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. But the body language is frustrated. I think we gave it some time and see if we could work it out.”
At the end of the season, Vrana will also be a restricted free agent as his two-year, $6.7 million bridge contract expires. That also played a factor in the Capitals’ decision, according to MacLellan.
“He has arbitration rights,” he said. “He’s got some good numbers. Projecting that salary, we get some cost certainty with Mantha ($5.7 AAV). We know what that contract is.”
Three teams in the Capitals’ division also made big deals ahead of the deadline. The Boston Bruins acquired Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar, the New York Islanders landed Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, and the Pittsburgh Penguins traded for Jeff Carter. MacLellan said that did not impact the Capitals’ thinking.
“I don’t think we’d made a decision based on what other teams are doing,” MacLellan said. “We’re independent and we’re trying to make our team better. If there’s nothing there that we thought that we could improve our team, we wouldn’t of tried.”
In the end, the Capitals liked Mantha’s “size, skill, shot, and scoring ability. He’s a really good skater for his size.” MacLellan also believes that the towering forward would thrive under Peter Laviolette’s system and of not having to be The Guy like he was in Detroit.
“I think Detroit’s a young team,” MacLellan said. “They’re building up their youth. He’s the main guy and there’s probably a little pressure on him to produce. I think he comes here and he’s just got to fit in. He’s going to have a veteran group of players. I think he’s going to learn from those veterans. I think we have a good leadership group of older guys that have been around. We have a lot of guys that have won a Cup. So I think it’s up to him to fit in, play well, relax and compete and I think everything will work out.”
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