Anthony Mantha contract shows Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s savvy within rebuild

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

Show Caption

Steve Yzerman continues to show sound fiscal judgment as he guides the Detroit Red Wings towards contention.

He handed out his first long-term deal since taking over as general manager of the Wings nearly 19 months ago when he inked Anthony Mantha for four years, $22.8 million on Tuesday.

The contract takes the 26-year-old Mantha two years into free agency, which is good, but it also avoids locking the Wings into an exorbitant deal, which is even better. It was only last month that Yzerman extricated the team from one such fiasco, Justin Abdelkader’s deal

The $5.7 million annual average value, or salary cap hit, recognizes that Mantha is a key rebuilding block, but keeps the hit below Dylan Larkin’s $6.1 million AAV. Four years says Yzerman believes in Mantha, but there’s room to grow. Tyler Bertuzzi, who, like Mantha, was a restricted free agent, probably could have had similar term, but that was a gamble Bertuzzi took, and lost, when he filed for arbitration. Bertuzzi wound up with one year at $3.5 million. 

MORE ON BERTUZZI: ‘Nothing personal at all’ after arbitration

LINUEP PROJECTIONS: Predicting the Wings’ opening night lineup after shake up

18 THOUGHTS: Yzerman’s first 18 months running the Red Wings

Bertuzzi and Mantha were Yzerman’s biggest RFAs this offseason, and their combined AAV adds up to $9.2 million. 

Larkin, who was signed by former GM Ken Holland for five years, $30.5 million in 2018, and Mantha are locked up through 2022-23 for a combined $11.8 million cap hit. Considering the uncertainty wrought by the novel coronavirus pandemic regarding the future growth of the salary cap, that’s a nice number that won’t get the Wings into cap trouble.

Four years is a good deal for Mantha, too. He could have gone for a one-year deal under the guise of trying to boost his value, but the risk in doing so increased as the start of the 2021 season kept shrinking the length of the season. Now he has job security — and a chance at one more big, long-term deal when he’s 30.

The contract shows Yzerman sees enough growth in Mantha’s game to warrant commitment. Mantha has had some rough patches since being drafted by the Wings in the first round, at 20th overall, in 2013, and has been called out by members of the organization numerous times. Most damningly so in 2015 when senior vice president Jimmy Devellano described Mantha’s play as “very, very disappointing,” and more recently so by coach Jeff Blashill.

Blashill said in 2017 Mantha “has got to be way better. Way better.” In 2018, it was captain Henrik Zetterberg who said too many young players on the team — a group that included Mantha — weren’t playing the right way. “Poke-and-hope might get you 25-30 goals,” Zetterberg said, “but you will never win anything.”

[ How Marc Staal became ‘excited’ about joining the Wings after talking to Yzerman ]

Mantha (6-foot-5, 234 pounds) can be a force on the ice when he skates to his ability, but making him understand he has to do so every night has been an education. For some players it takes longer than others. Mantha has been much more consistent the past two seasons, though that consistency includes stays in sick bay. He injured a hand during a fight in 2018-19, and suffered a punctured lung while seemingly prepared to engage in a fight in 2019-20.

Mantha still managed to score 25 goals in 67 games two seasons ago, but last season he played only 43 games, and was limited to 16 goals. Both years, his goals extrapolate to 30 over 82 games — but the Wings are paying Mantha to reach the number in actuality, not theory.

Until Mantha, Yzerman had kept the deals he’s given out since April 2019 to one or two years, granting flexibility as he reshapes the roster. Of the contracts Yzerman inherited, only one, that Abdelkader, extended until 2022-23, and Yzerman opted to use a buyout to rid the team of that albatross.

Yzerman has changed the Wings a great deal in a year and a half. They’re not a contender by any means, but they’re more competitive, and he’s done it all without compromising the budget.

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

Articles You May Like

NHL Rumors: Oilers, Red Wings, Flyers
9 NHL Teams That Missed in Free Agency
Why Red Wings’ Quiet Offseason Was the Right Call Long Term
Red Wings: 5 Potential Alternate Captains
Red Wings Should Still Pursue John Gibson Trade

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *