The Washington Capitals are set to miss the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons. Led by head coach Peter Laviolette since 2020, the Capitals have become the oldest and least durable team in the league, struggling to put full games together. They have not won a round in the postseason under Laviolette. In nearly every lineup decision made by the coach, the team has trended older, further cratering its ceiling during the final years of the Alex Ovechkin Era.
One of the earliest casualties of the Laviolette regime was talented goal-scorer Jakub Vrana, a popular member of the 2018 Stanley Cup championship team who seemed to be a budding superstar (Craig Laughlin’s words, not mine) and helping lead the Capitals into the future.
Vrana’s lack of a consistent two-way game caused both player and coach to butt heads, leading the Czech forward to be benched, scratched, and later dealt out of town. “There was a tug of war between coaching staff and staffs that have had him and the way he was playing,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said at the time. “I think we had a frustrated player and we tried to move on from that.”
The Capitals sent Vrana, Richard Panik, and a first-round pick to the Detroit Red Wings, a young and up-and-coming team, for Anthony Mantha (who’s now being benched off and on by Laviolette).
Vrana, who is now with the St. Louis Blues, recently reflected on the trade out of DC with The Hockey News’ Lou Korac.
“That was really tough,” Vrana said. “I didn’t expect it at all. I thought my position on the team with the Capitals, how I’ve been there since Day 1 since the draft, I thought I would get more opportunity and spend more time there, but unfortunately, that’s not what the management wanted.
“They obviously traded me to Detroit and in Detroit, it was totally different just going from one team to another,” he continued. The group of people, they’re unbelievable guys down there for sure, but just a younger group of a guys, a totally different situation. You’re on a team that hasn’t been in the playoffs for five years or how long. It’s a new challenge. You take it as a new challenge, you’re really excited to help the team get to the playoffs and all that with the pieces there, but I came from a veteran group of guys that had the experience to a team that was younger. They just don’t know what to expect from the league. So it was a little different.”
Vrana scored 22 goals in 42 games during parts of three seasons in Detroit. His time with the Red Wings was marred by a severe shoulder injury that he suffered at the start of training camp (2021-22) and a stint in the league’s player assistance program (2022-23), limiting his impact on the team’s overall success.
With bridges seemingly burned, the Red Wings essentially gave away Vrana at this year’s trade deadline, dealing him to the St. Louis Blues for a seventh-round pick and a minor-league prospect while still retaining half his remaining salary.
“Unfortunately, things happen during my career and Detroit did not accept it really well I guess as you can tell,” Vrana said. “When I left the (player assistance) program, I didn’t get any chance really much. The decision was to send me down through waivers right away without even a game, go to the AHL. That was shocking to me. I had this type of career, but I did it. I accepted it like it is. I’m just a player. I can’t make decisions like that, so I just accept it, go and work hard. I tried to do my best down there. Finally I got called up, got scratched first four games and then I already kind of knew like this is it, it wasn’t working.
“I think hockey-wise it could work, to be honest. I think hockey-wise it was there. I just think for some reason, I don’t really know what’s behind it. I had to take care of some (personal) stuff outside the locker room, outside the hockey rink. I came back and felt like a new person. It was totally different. Guys are nice, and the organization are really good people. It’s just that it was a little frustrating to me. I expected a little bit more trust and a little bit more (of a) chance to kind of put the pieces together again. That didn’t work.”
Since reporting to the Blues, Vrana has picked up where he left off during his good times in Detroit, scoring five goals in his first eight games.
He still looks back at his time in Washington favorably.
“Overall, for growth as a player, I was really lucky to be on a team like that, my first couple years in the league,” Vrana said. “My linemates I played with, Nicklas Backstrom and TJ Oshie, those two guys I played with. Evgeny Kuznetzov, Tom Wilson, I played with a lot of good players on the team and they helped me to grow.”
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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