With the 2020 playoffs nearing completion, the Detriot Red Wings are approaching their most important offseason in recent years, as they’re faced with a handful of tough decisions regarding their current roster.
Entering his second season as general manager, Steve Yzerman is expected to have his hands full over the next couple of months, game planning for the 2020 NHL Draft along with handling the upcoming free-agent frenzy as well. With that said, one of his most daunting tasks will be negotiating a new contract with one of Detroit’s 10 restricted free agents.
FYI for those wondering: Clubs have until 5 p.m. ET on Oct. 7 to submit Qualifying Offers to their respective RFAs. Which those RFAs can begin signing as of noon ET Oct. 9. Those Qualifying Offers expire at 5 p.m. ET on Oct. 18.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) September 14, 2020
While the Red Wings still have a few weeks to offer qualifying offers to their free agents, it’d be wise for Yzerman and his staff to sign forward Anthony Mantha to a contract extension sooner rather than later. Even though his impending free agency is considered a top priority, locating a new deal for the former first-round pick could prove to be difficult and the front office will need to be extremely careful with this situation.
Though the 26-year old endured another injury-riddled campaign, missing 28 games due to injury, he’s still a major part of Detroit’s future and has proven to be a difference-maker when healthy. Despite missing a huge chunk of this past season, the left-hander was on pace for one of the best statistical performances of his career and would’ve likely surpassed the 20-goal mark for a third-straight season if not for the league’s shutdown.
Over his 43 games, Mantha averaged a career-high 18:54 minutes of ice time, producing 16 goals, 38 points, 137 shots on net, 49 hits, 25 blocks, 22 takeaways, along with a 42.1 faceoff win percentage. As a result of this production, the 6-foot-5 right winger was able to generate career-highs in assists per game (0.51), points per game (0.88), while also matching his highest goals per game metric (0.37).
Considering the Quebec native has taken a step forward with his development in each of the last four seasons, it would make plenty of sense to extend him to a long-term contract, tying him to the Red Wings beyond this current rebuilding phase. But based on his injury history, there’s no guarantee he won’t struggle to stay on the ice in the future, making this an extremely risky investment.
Adding to this, the Red Wings will also be forced to negotiate a new deal with forward Tyler Bertuzzi this offseason, who could also potentially demand a long-term extension. So if Mantha earns a sizeable new contract, then the former second-round pick will likely ask for similar treatment, which could put Yzerman in a tough position.
While Detroit owns the third-highest cap space next season ($32.29 million), according to Sportrac.com, they definitely don’t want to hinder their ability to spend freely during their competitive window that’ll begin in the next few seasons. With that in mind, the front office should strive to sign Mantha to a new deal that doesn’t exceed five years or a salary larger than $5 million per season.
Looking for comparisons, forwards Nino Niederreiter and Brendan Gallagher would serve as perfect examples for Yzerman and his staff, as they’ve both recorded similar results to Mantha over the last four seasons. Since the 2016-17 campaign, the Hurricanes’ forward has scored 77 goals and 171 points and the Canadiens’ forward has tallied 96 goals and 178 points.
Considering Mantha has created 82 goals and 170 points during that same timeframe, it shouldn’t shock anyone to see him receive an extension somewhere between Niederreiter’s five-year, $26.25 million deal and Gallagher’s six-year, $22.5 million contract. That said, there’s certainly a chance Yzerman could surprise everyone and lock him up for the next seven or eight seasons. So, be prepared to expect the unexpected at this point.
Despite the uncertainty of when next season will begin, and there’s a chance it might not start until 2021, Mantha is expected to have a new deal and to be skating alongside his teammates at Little Caesars Arena this winter. While the Red Wings will probably finish shy of a playoff spot once again, the future of their organization is certainly bright with one of their young stars helping to lead the way.