'He's one of our best': Steve Yzerman happy to lock up Anthony Mantha with Red Wings for four years
Detroit — Anthony Mantha’s new contract with the Red Wings keeps the team’s salary commitments manageable, and keeps a key piece in the team’s rebuild in Detroit for at least the next four seasons.
A day after signing Mantha to a four-year contract worth $22.8 million ($5.7 million annual average), general manager Steve Yzerman said Wednesday the deal works for both sides.
“He’s one of our best players, a key player on our team,” said Yzerman during a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday. “Every contract negotiation is a little bit different, and each player has different priorities, whether it’s term or whatnot.
“We were able to reach agreement on term that worked for both of us and salary amount that worked for both of us.”
Giving Mantha four years takes him one year past when Dylan Larkin can become an unrestricted free agent, and sets up Mantha, 26, for another lengthy contract.
And the value of the contract seemingly doesn't hinder the Wings’ salary cap situation in the future.
“With a lot of our young players, and I consider Anthony one of our younger players, we’re trying to build around this group, and each contract that we do, we try to make it work what we’re trying to do,” Yzerman said. “We’re careful in what we do (in terms of the salary cap), but our intention is to keep these players around and we were able to work out a contract.”
The contract was the longest and most expensive that Yzerman has handed out, now in his second offseason as Red Wings general manager.
Mantha, talking to reporters Tuesday after agreeing to the deal, was receptive of the responsibility being placed on his shoulders.
“Everyone knows we’re in a rebuild phase, and him signing me to a four-year deal tells me he sees me as a part of the future of the team, part of the guys that are going to help this team win,” Mantha said. “That’s pressure that comes with it. I will have to bring my game to another level and try to help this team win.”
Mantha, 26, had 38 points (16 goals) in 43 games last season, which was shortened by injuries and the pandemic.
Injuries have nagged Mantha throughout his young career, including three times being injured fighting while standing up for smaller teammates.
Yzerman thinks Mantha’s statistics could well spike simply by staying healthy – and being more judicious about when to fight.
“For Anthony, the biggest thing is I want him to stay healthy,” Yzerman said. “I’m sure he wants to stay healthy, too. Three of his injuries have come in fights. I don’t try to encourage our players to fight, not telling them they can’t or don’t have to. It’s a physical game and whether there’s fighting in any sport, sometimes it happens.
“Our hope is Anthony remains healthy. He’s an important, impact player, and we need him on the ice.”
Mantha expressed optimism Tuesday the Wings will become a competitive playoff team during the four-year term of his contract. Being more of a veteran leader also appealed to Mantha.
It was all part of why Mantha wanted to remain in Detroit.
“We’re going to be contenders at some point. A rebuild needs a couple years to get there and then the team’s going to be good,” Mantha said. “That’s when the opportunity is going to come, and I’ll be around and hopefully I can help this team.”
This past season, the Wings had the worst record in the NHL. Yzerman is optimistic Mantha, who has yet to participate in an NHL playoff series, will see improvement around him.
“I don’t know the timeline, but over the course of Anthony’s career, I expect our team to be better,” Yzerman said.
While the Wings were able to secure Mantha on a multi-year deal, they weren’t as successful with fellow restricted free agent forward Tyler Bertuzzi.
When negotiations on a long-term deal stalled, Bertuzzi and his representatives filed for salary arbitration – which Bertuzzi was eligible to do – with Bertuzzi being awarded a one-year contract worth $3.5 million. (The Wings filed or $3.15 million, Bertuzzi for $4.25 million).
The Wings would have liked to sign Bertuzzi to a longer contract, Yzerman said.
“I don’t want to speak for Tyler but we were trying to reach agreement on a longer-term deal, longer than one year, but we weren’t able to do that,” Yzerman said. “We were trying to do something but we couldn’t reach agreement on it.”