What Steve Yzerman said about Jakub Vrana’s time with Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

General managers rarely gift wrap a potential 40-goal scorer and send him to another team, but that essentially is what Steve Yzerman did to rid the Detroit Red Wings of Jakub Vrana.

Friday morning heralded the news Vrana would continue his NHL career with the St. Louis Blues. The Wings agreed to retain 50% of Vrana’s contract, which runs through 2023-24 with a $5.25 million salary cap hit. The return was a seventh-round pick in 2025 and a minor-league player — basically, the least possible.

The move reflected how frustrated the Wings had grown with Vrana, who missed significant time over the past two years — this season while dealing with a personal issue and last season recovering from shoulder surgery.

I don’t think I can really go into details on a lot of the things that have gone on,” Yzerman said Friday afternoon. “I would just say I wish Jakub the best of luck in his hockey career and on and off the ice.

“It was just time for both parties to move on.”

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Vrana joined the Wings at the 2021 trade deadline, acquired in the deal that sent Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals and also yielded a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick. The Wings had grown tired of Mantha’s inconsistency, and Vrana at first seemed like a welcome addition, pumping eight goals into the 11 games he played in what was left of that pandemic-shortened season. Yzerman signed Vrana to a three-year, $15.75 million deal that August.

But things soured when Vrana showed up late for following training camp, and then lasted only 10 minutes on the ice before complaining of a nagging shoulder injury. He ended up needing surgery and missed the first 56 games.

Vrana again showed how good a scorer he is when he joined the lineup in March, scoring 13 goals in 26 games — a pace that extrapolates to 40 goals in an 82-game season.

The Wings had Vrana earmarked for 30 goals coming into this season, but two games in, off-ice issues (which Vrana has wanted to keep private) led Vrana to be placed in the NHL and NHLPA players assistance program. He was reinstated Dec. 16, but it soon became evident the Wings wanted to move on without him. Vrana was loaned to the Grand Rapids Griffins on a conditioning stint on Dec. 28 — and then Yzerman signaled that Vrana really didn’t fit into the Wings’ future any more by placing him on waivers on Jan. 3.

Vrana was only three weeks into his comeback at that time, and was still owed half his salary, so teams were wary and he went unclaimed. The Wings assigned him to the minors, where Vrana seemed to get his game in order, and led to his being recalled in mid-February. He was a healthy scratch for three games, then made his season debut in an emotional game Feb. 21 at Washington against his former team.

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He went on to play twice more, recording no points, and had one goal and one assist in five games total this seaosn when the trade happened.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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