| Detroit Free Press
Jeff Blashill on why Anthony Mantha was a healthy scratch for Detroit Red Wings
Jeff Blashill interview, Feb. 7, 2021.
Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press
Over the past two games, the Wings (3-8-2) look closer to the identity they hoped to have when this season began, before they lost five players who tested positive for COVID-19 in the opening week. That created openings for guys who began the season on the taxi squad, at least one of whom has made a case for staying in the lineup.
Someone who looked like he would figure into the lineup, on the other hand, has not had as good a week.
With Tuesday’s game representing the quarter-mark of this 56-game season sprint, let’s look at whose stock is on the rise, and whose stock is falling for the Red Wings:
The second-round pick from 2016 recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick, tallying a goal, an assist and a fight vs. Florida on Sunday. Smith (6 feet 2, 210 pounds) has four points in six games this season, maximizing his opportunities when he has been sprung from the taxi squad. He has started the past two games on Dylan Larkin’s line, but can play on any line — he’s a big winger who is steadfast about going to the net and being physical.
The 2016 draft was when then-general manager Ken Holland unloaded Pavel Datsyuk’s contract on the Arizona Coyotes. It cost the Wings moving back from picking 16th to 20th, but they gained Arizona’s second-round pick, at 53rd overall, which yielded Hronek. He has surpassed the Wings’ first-round pick from that draft year, defenseman Dennis Cholowski, demonstrating a physical edge. Hronek has averaged 24 minutes per game this season, and has been a factor on both special teams.
He was a low-key signing by GM Steve Yzerman, who drafted Namestnikov, 28, in the first round in 2011 as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Namestnikov did not get the results desired early in the season, thwarted on breakaways, but he gives the coaching staff great flexibility because he can play either wing or center. With Robby Fabbri sidelined by COVID-19 two games into the season, Namestnikov gained his footing at center. He is on a streak with two goals in two games.
What a damning indictment of Mantha that even as the Wings had gone eight games without winning, coach Jeff Blashill opted to scratch Mantha on Sunday. He is a force when he moves his feet, but has not done that consistently enough this season, and there is growing frustration within the organization that at age 26, Mantha still doesn’t seem to know what sparks his success. (When asked last month about what he needed to do better, Mantha said if he knew, he would carry the answer in his bag.)
He recorded his first goal of the season Sunday, but the Wings were hoping for more than three points and a minus-5 rating in 13 games. Staal, 34, was acquired by Yzerman in a late September trade with the New York Rangers. Staal does add experience to the defense, but more importantly for the rebuild, the trade yielded 2021 a second-round pick.
There was concern within the organization regarding DeKeyser’s functionality after he missed all but eight games last season, undergoing back surgery in October 2019. He was the team’s workhorse, logging 20-plus minutes as a shut-down guy. He was pulled from the lineup at the end of January, and Blashill has said it’s because DeKeyser is playing “on one leg” — a residual effect from the back surgery.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. 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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.