Detroit — Few players are generating as much buzz at the current world championships than Anthony Mantha.
The Red Wings’ forward has carried his late-season scoring surge into the world tournament. Mantha was second in the tournament with seven points (three goals, four assists) in only three games for Canada, skating and playing with the puck about as well as he did at any point during the regular season.
Which is great news for the Red Wings, as Mantha, possibly further increases … his trade value?
The chances are slim of Mantha being dealt, especially given the way the line of Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi exploded the final weeks of the regular season.
But with those three young forwards, plus Andreas Athanasiou, and prospects such as Michael Rasmussen, Taro Hirose, Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno, Evgeny Svechnikov and Jonatan Berggren — not to mention whoever the Wings pluck out of next month’s entry draft — the Wings’ young talent pool among forwards runs deep.
Among the defensemen, it's not quite as deep. And certainly on the NHL roster, the depth chart isn’t as strong — and, it's aging — compared to others around the league.
Some of the forwards aren’t going anywhere. Larkin is the foundation of this organization. Bertuzzi had 21-goal season, is a heart-and-soul player, but wouldn’t likely fetch the return that a Mantha or Athanasiou would, and is probably a more valuable player for the Wings, given his intangibles, than for other teams.
That leaves Athanasiou and Mantha, primarily, as two names that jump out.
So, why not ship a good young forward for a talented young defenseman?
It’s a question that makes sense, especially for a general manager like Steve Yzerman, who showed in Tampa Bay a willingness to be aggressive, at times.
“They’ve got to find the young defenseman,” said E.J. Hradek, an NHL Network analyst. “They have a number of talented forwards, so much so, maybe they can move one to get a really good defenseman.”
Hradek, as an example, pointed to the Colorado Avalanche, with young defensemen Tyson Barrie, Cale Makar and Samuel Girard on the roster, but lacking premier offensive forwards after its incredible top line (Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen).
Could the Avalanche be a trading partner? Or maybe Carolina, with its deep defense, or Anaheim or Nashville, both looking to reshape their lineups and searching for scoring depth, with perhaps a defensemen to spare?
There are teams which could be a good fit.
“Let’s say Colorado, just as an example,” Hradek said. “Could Colorado be in position to move a Tyson Barrie with the arrival of Cale Makar. So they could be looking for a high-end forward who can play with tempo.
“There could be a match there.
“The Wings have drafted some real good forwards and developed them. Maybe there’s a match. Maybe the Wings become a destination again, and they can land a free-agent defenseman and all those things come together.”
Players like Mantha or Athanasiou become valuable bargaining chips if the Wings choose to go the trade route.
Both players become restricted free agents in the summer of 2020, with Mantha currently making $3.3 million per season and Athanasiou $3 million — and each is likely to earn massive raises given the current NHL landscape, with dynamic young forwards being retained on long, expensive deals.
Do the Wings want to be tied to long-term deals with both forwards, given the large group of young players that will need contracts in the future, not to mention a likely free agent or two in the next few seasons?
Athanasiou, 24, quieted questions about his consistency and production with his first 30-goal season (54 points overall), while also looking capable of playing center and anchoring another capable scoring line.
Mantha had 25 goals and 48 points, while missing 15 games with a hand injury suffered in a fight with Colorado’s Patrik Nemeth, coming to the defense of Larkin.
The 24-year-old Mantha was dominant playing with Larkin and Bertuzzi, using his deft passing to complement his size and goal-scoring ability.
“When he skates, he’s a really good player,” coach Jeff Blashill said late in the season about Mantha — a sentence he’s used regarding Mantha many times in Mantha’s young career.
To make a pure, true player-for-player hockey trade, the Wings don’t have many options. There aren’t many assets that are going to entice another team to give up a talented player, likely the defenseman the Wings need.
A player like Athanasiou or Mantha would figure to create the most meaningful return.
“They really have a good group of forwards. A lot of talented young forwards,” Hradek said. “But they need to fill out their defense.
“Defense is so important in this game now. Having those young puck-moving defensemen in a league that’s such a speed league now, for me, that’s really job one to rebuild and remake that defense. We’ll see where it goes.”