Detroit – Count Anthony Mantha among the Detroit Red Wings who would love to see the regular season resume and finish out.
The idea of simply playing hockey again – the coronavirus pandemic shut the NHL down March 12 – seeing his teammates, and leaving his Montreal house are some reasons.
But for Mantha, it would also be an opportunity to put a cap on what was a successful, albeit abbreviated, season individually.
It would be a chance to slightly answer the “what if” and “what could have been” questions had Mantha not missed so many games with two injuries.
“For sure,” Mantha told The Detroit News, of whether he’d like to see the season restarted. “This season, I was really not lucky (because of injuries). But in the end, I felt when I was out there, I upped my game from last year. I did way better offensively, defensively.
“Injuries are injuries. Obviously the big injury was terrible luck. But it’s hard to say (what could have been).”
The “big injury” was a punctured lung suffered in a fight with Toronto’s Jake Muzzin on Dec. 22 that cost Mantha 20 games.
That, incidentally, occurred just four games after Mantha had returned after missing eight games with a knee injury.
That’s 28 games missed in what was shaping to be a career-best season on some fronts. Mantha has 16 goals and 22 assists for nearly a point per game average (38 points in 43 games).
Mantha’s target before the season was to reach the 30-goal mark for the first time.
“I was shooting for 30, that was the number I really wanted to reach,” Mantha said.
So, from an individual perspective, Mantha would relish the chance to get back to playing and see how close he could come to that 30 number.
But even if the Red Wings’ season doesn’t resume, Mantha believes he still took a big step forward.
“In the games I was on the ice, I felt I was an impact player for the team,” Mantha said. “It’s the kind of player I want to be, and I showed everyone I could be that player this year.”
Playing on a line with Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin, the unit was among the best in the NHL the final weeks before pandemic paused the season.
Mantha had 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in the last 14 games, and was skating and producing as well as he had all season.
Mantha will be 26 in September, and the maturity and experience he’s gained in the NHL the last several years, he said, contributed to his growth on the ice this season.
“The experience goes with the maturity,” Mantha said. “A couple years ago I was a little kid. Now I’m about to be 26 and I know what this team needs out of me. I know how to play to that kind of role.”
Mantha scored 81 goals in 81 games (regular season and playoffs combined) his final year of junior hockey, but has realized he isn’t going to reach a number like that in the NHL.
Mantha admits it took a bit of time to learn that lesson.
“There’s only one guy who is able to score 50 every year and that’s Ovi (Alex Ovechkin),” Mantha said. “Every other player needs to work super, super hard to line everything up and be able to score goals.
“As soon as you start playing (in the NHL), you realize this league is super hard. To get stats you have to make sure every detail is lined up to have any success in this league.”
Mantha will be a restricted after this season. He was on a two-year contract worth $6.6 million but stands to potentially double that in his new contract.
With the incredible uncertainty around the NHL, it’s not surprising general manager Steve Yzerman has not had contract discussions with any of his players.
Mantha is confident a long-term deal – he could be an unrestricted free agent in two years – can be reached this offseason.
“I want to be here, I like it here,” Mantha said. “I know we’re rebuilding right now but hopefully I can be part of the future. Hopefully things go well and we can get a deal.
“I’m not stressed yet. The league is waiting to see if we’re going to finish the season or what is going to happen. We have all summer to negotiate. If we don’t have a contract before the (next) season, then I’ll be a little worried. But we have so much time. I’m pretty sure we’re going to agree on a deal.”
Mantha wants to also get back into game action to try to erase the stench of what was a difficult Wings’ season.
“It’s terrible, it’s not fun at all,” said Mantha of going through such a difficult season. “It was hard. The last two years have been the hardest seasons of my career.
“We kind of finished strong last season and we had a good start this year. We surprised some good teams (early on). I know we’re capable of it. We just need to do it every night. It’s not easy. Every team is good in this league. It’s hard to get a win.”
Mantha has maintained his conditioning and thinks that with a three-week training camp, returning this summer wouldn’t be a problem.
“At first it was hard because we didn’t see any talk of a possible return,” Mantha said. “Now, there’s slowly some talk of some possible dates of maybe returning, and having a training camp, and starting the season.
“It’s weird times. Hopefully we can get back and finish the season and we can all get back to our normal life.”