The Detroit Red Wings moved forward from the NHL trade deadline with an eye toward a strong finish.
They emerged from an emotional, stressful trade deadline having said goodbye to three teammates, anticipating welcoming two new ones, and having put together impressive back-to-back victories against an elite opponent.
“You saw this weekend what we’re capable of,” captain Dylan Larkin said after Monday’s 3-1 victory at the Hurricanes. “A lot of guys were in stressful situations, especially being on the road during this time. Jonathan Bernier was stressed. He wants to be a Red Wing. He showed how professional he is, how he prepares no matter what he’s facing. He’s our rock.”
Bernier was among multiple pending unrestricted free agents who had been possible candidates to be traded, as defensemen Patrik Nemeth and Jon Merrill were over the weekend. But it was Anthony Mantha who was gone from the lineup, traded to the Washington Capitals for Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a first-round pick in 2021 and a second-rounder in 2022.
“The guys we lost, all three of them were awesome teammates, awesome friends,” Larkin said. “At some point here it’d be really nice to not say goodbye to friends at the trade deadline and be sellers. I wish them all the best with their new teams.”
Larkin took the Mantha trade especially hard. The two had developed excellent chemistry over the years, on and off the ice.
“It was shocking,” Larkin said. “I woke up from my nap and looked on my phone and he’d texted me,” Larkin said. “It hurt. It was hard. We’ve been together for a long time and we’ve kind of grown up together and we still have a lot of growing to do. He’s one of my best friends in life. We rely on each other a lot. He (was) a big part of our locker room.”
Mantha was a force at times, but his inconsistent play led to numerous trips to the doghouse. He was a healthy scratch in February.
“Anthony played for me for a long time, going back probably eight years now,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s a really good person. There have been moments where there has been friction between us, as there is going to be anytime a coach is trying to push a player. But I really appreciate Anthony as a person. He wants to do it right. Did he all the time? Part of it is just a learning process. I wished him great luck.”
Blashill said players who had been possibilities to be traded were told as they boarded buses to the arena that they were safe.
“The unknown is hard on people,” he said. “I know a lot of guys were going through things to see what was going to happen.”
Larkin called Monday “an emotional day, a stressful day. A lot of guys are glad it’s over.”
The Wings have a little more than three weeks left in their season. Vrana and Panik are expected to be available for Thursday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, one of 12 left on the schedule. Beating the Hurricanes is exactly the type of fun Larkin has talked about the Wings wanting to have this last stretch — maybe play a bit of a spoiler role. Maybe impress upon general manager Steve Yzerman that there can be a fit in the rebuild.
“We have so much to play for these last 12 games,” Larkin said. “We have young players trying to prove themselves – everyone is trying to prove themselves, to prove that they should be on the team next year. There’s pride to be a Detroit Red Wing. That’s very important to all of us in the room. We’ve had some tough times and I never thought for once that the group in there wasn’t proud of being a Detroit Red Wings. For me that means a lot. It gets us through tough times. We stick together and it’s good to have a trip like this.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.