Anthony Mantha, Brett Kulak, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Paul Byron, Ryan Poehling

Red Wings & Canadiens: Mock Mantha Trade

So, you want to trade Anthony Mantha….

It wasn’t all that long ago that fans of the Detroit Red Wings were jumping for joy when they found out that general manager Steve Yzerman had inked the power forward to a four-year deal with a cap-hit of $5.7 million. Fast forward to today, and the streaky winger has seen himself benched on one occasion, and outright healthy scratched on another. Not exactly what you’re hoping for from the Red Wings’ second-best player.

With five goals and nine points through 20 games this season, the “Flying Frenchman” has the lowest points per-game rate of his career since a 10-game stint during the 2015-16 season – his first taste of NHL action. He’s still a positive force in terms of possession, and you can see the effect he has on the ice when he’s on his game. The problem is getting him on his game and then keeping him there.

A native of Longueuil, Quebec, Mantha grew up cheering for the Montreal Canadiens. His grandfather, André Pronovost, won four Stanley Cup championships with the Canadiens, and the big winger always shows up for his games against the Habs. Whenever people talk about trading this player, Montreal is almost always where they’re trying to trading him to.

With that in mind, I decided to take on the GM role for the Red Wings and contact Melissa Boyd, one of THW’s Canadiens writers and a shrewd hockey mind in her own right. Together, we came to an agreement on a deal for Mantha. Here’s how the conversation went:

The Mantha Deal

Devin Little: Good afternoon GM Boyd, how are you today? I saw that your Canadiens are already beginning to make some changes!

Melissa Boyd: Indeed we are. I just fired my coach and an assistant, time to move on to my roster. I think we need to make another move to shake up the team… if the price is right of course.

Claude Julien
The Canadiens just fired Claude Julien (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

DL: Well, as I’m sure you know, my Red Wings could use a bit of a shake-up as well. I’ve got some players on my roster that I think might interest you. Namely, Anthony Mantha.
He’s a 26-year-old power forward who my predecessor just inked to a four-year deal with a cap-hit of $5.7 million. When he’s on, he’s a legitimate force on the ice capable of scoring 30 goals in a regular season. Unfortunately, he hasn’t gotten off to the start that we here in Detroit were hoping he would get off to, and I know he has some connections with the Montreal area, so I figured I would give you first dibs on this player.

MB: Well I appreciate that, thank you. We like Anthony as well and I could use some help on the wing given that I am probably not going to re-sign Tomas Tatar or Joel Armia.

DL: Knowing Mantha’s cap-hit is a bit pricey, we here in Detroit are more than happy to take a back a player with some money in order to make the finances on this one work. Do you have a player (or players) in mind that you could send our way to help you stay under the cap?

MB: Yes I do actually. Paul Byron and Brett Kulak.
We love Paul for his speed and leadership. He’s been a great assistant captain for us. But his cap hit of $3.4 million for the next 3 years in our current situation is really handicapping me. He has already cleared waivers so you can even place him on your taxi squad if you like.
Brett Kulak is solid defenseman, not flashy, but has good advanced stats. I have some young D that are ready to see more NHL ice time.

DL: I’m planning on moving out other bodies as well, so bringing in these two individuals should help us maintain a full NHL roster as well as stay above the cap floor. This sounds good.
Now I notice that you have a ton of draft capital in the 2021 draft. For a quality player with term on his deal like Mantha, I would like to get back at least a first round pick in this deal. Are we on the same page about this?

MB: Great news. In that case, yes I would be willing to give you my first-round pick in 2021.

Tyler Wright Steve Yzerman Kris Draper Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings need as many draft picks as they can get (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

DL: Excellent. In 2018, my predecessor’s predecessor dealt Tomas Tatar to the Vegas Golden Knights for a 1st, a 2nd and a 3rd round pick, all in different years. He had recently been signed to the deal he is on with you guys right now!
The reason I bring this up is because I believe that I should get a comparable package for Mantha that Tatar did back then. However, I’ve got my eyes on a prospect or two of yours that could save you some draft picks….

MB: I remember that trade very well, excellent move for your team. I was going to mention that we also have prospects that may interest you.

DL: There are two names on my list: goaltender Cayden Primeau and Ryan Poehling. How do you feel about moving either of these guys?

MB: I would be willing to move Poehling. In fact, I think he would be a good fit in Detroit. We are confident, however, that Primeau will become the new No. 1 goalie and the heir to Carey Price in the future so I’m not ready to deal him at this time.

DL: Understandable. I think you’ve got a heck of a young goaltender there. As for Poehling, I think he would be a good fit as well.
I feel like we’re close on this, but I would like a little more value on this deal. Would you be willing to throw a 2022 second round pick my way and we can call this a done deal?

MB: Yes. Considering I have a two second-round picks in 2021, I can give you the 2022 second rounder.

DL: Awesome! So, just to be clear, the deal looks like this: Montreal gets Mantha, Detroit gets Byron, Kulak, Poehling, a 2021 1st, and a 2022 2nd. Does that sound right?

MB: Actually I have one final request, would you be willing to give me one of your third rounders in 2021 or one of your fourths in 2022?

DL: I’m willing to give you Vegas’s fourth in 2022. Is that alright? (Note: this pick was acquired from the Golden Knights for a 2020 fifth round pick during the 2020 draft.)

MB: That works!

DL: Sounds good! Pleasure doing business with you. I’ll have my assistant GM send the details to the league. Good luck to you and your team!

MB: The pleasure has been all mine. Our fans will be very excited to have Anthony in Montreal.

Detroit Gets Montreal Gets

Byron, Kulak, Poehling, 2021 first round pick (MTL), 2022 second round pick (MTL) Mantha, 2022 fourth round pick (VGK)

What Did the Red Wings Acquire?

Paul Byron

After this season, Byron has two more years on his deal at a cap-hit of $3.4 million. He is 31 years old and wears an “A” on his jersey as an alternate captain for the Canadiens. While I didn’t necessarily want to take back term in this deal, I made an exception here because I believe this is the kind of veteran leader you can stash in your bottom six until the opportunity to trade him arises.

Paul Byron Montreal Canadiens
Paul Byron, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Byron has never scored more than 43 points (he did so during the 2016-17 season) but he can hold down a spot in the bottom six until more of the Red Wings’ prospects are ready to take over the team. That’s fine with me.

Brett Kulak

With a career Corsi-percentage at just a hair under 55%, good things generally happen whenever Kulak is on the ice for his team. At just 27 years old, this is a guy that you can stick somewhere on your blue line for this season and the next before dangling him as trade bait at next year’s trade deadline.

By taking back Byron and Kulak for Mantha, the Canadiens are able to make the cap work, and the Red Wings actually shed $450,000 in cap space. These two players don’t just make the money work, they also give Detroit two more trading assets for the future, as well as guys they can comfortably expose in the upcoming expansion draft.

Ryan Poehling

The Canadiens have too many centers in their organization, so I knew this was a prime opportunity to target the former 2017 first round pick (25th overall). The Lakeville, Minnesota-native has 28 games of NHL action to his name. In that time, he has just four goals and five points, but it’s not time to write this kid off quite yet. Because of Montreal’s depth down the middle, he has not had an opportunity to really stake his claim to an NHL spot.

Ryan Poehling Montreal Canadiens
Ryan Poehling, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

At worst, he provides competition for the likes of Michael Rasmussen and Joe Veleno down the middle. At best, this could be the Red Wings’ second line center of the future. I wanted to get a good prospect out of this deal. While Primeau would have been a huge get, I’m willing to roll the dice on Poehling and hope that one of the picks I acquired will yield a goalie like Primeau.

Picks!

If the Red Wings are going to acquire an additional first round pick, I think this is the draft to do it, and I think Mantha is their best shot at acquiring that pick.

More so than most other drafts, the 2021 draft class is a bit of a crapshoot. There are upwards of eight kids that could go first overall, and the rest of the class is filled with players that will have their fans and their critics. The Red Wings can’t afford to strike out in this year’s draft, and the best way to ensure that they get somebody good out of this class is to put more bullets in the chamber.

While Detroit’s first round pick will be a lottery pick, Montreal’s could land anywhere from pick 16 to pick 32, though I’m willing to bet on it landing closer to 16. Adding two first round talents to an already impressive prospect pool will only push the rebuild further along.

As for the 2022 second, it’s time to start building up the Red Wings’ draft capital for next year’s draft. While it cost their additional fourth round pick they had, I’m more than happy with upgrading that pick to a second round selection. With that move made, the Wings will now pick three times in the top 64 in the 2022 draft, with more picks likely on the way.

Final Thoughts

Despite all of this, I don’t want to trade Mantha. If they trade him, he’s the type of player that you know would explode anytime he plays against the Red Wings. He brings a package of size, grit and skill that no other player on Detroit’s roster provides. However, in the name of the rebuild, I can see the merits of trading this player.

If Yzerman can acquire this kind of package (let alone a better one), I would bid a sad farewell to a player I’ve liked since his draft year, but also get excited about the future assets acquired in this trade. I believe I made a great deal for the Red Wings, but what do you think? Who wins this deal: Detroit or Montreal?

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