Detroit Red Wings’ general manager Steve Yzerman has been notably reluctant to award any sort of long term contract in his first few years with the organization. So much so, when forward Anthony Mantha inked a four-year contract worth $22.8 million (5.7 million annual cap hit), it not only spoke volumes to Yzerman’s faith in the 26-year-old forward as part of the team’s core moving forward but also shoved aside any previous notions of Mantha struggling at the NHL level. It was even billed at the time as a smart, team-friendly contract that would keep the rebuild’s nucleus intact for years to come.
Eight games into the 2020-21 season, Mantha has failed to live up to those expectations.
To be clear, the team’s 2-5-1 record to this point does not solely rest on the former first-round draft pick’s shoulders. The defense has not played well, the team has had everyday players sidelined by COVID protocols, and the power play has been absolutely dreadful. Still, coming on the heels of a league-worst 17-win season in 2019-20, more was expected of the budding star, and he has yet to deliver.
With nearly a $6 million cap hit each year for the next four years, Detroit needs much more out of him.
Mantha Needs To Move His Feet and Shoot The Puck
Mantha’s four points in eight games this season rank him fifth on the team, behind Tyler Bertuzzi (six), Dylan Larkin (six), Bobby Ryan (five), and Filip Hornek (five). In addition, he sits just ahead of 21-year-old Michael Rasmussen (three) and 36-year-old Frans Nielsen (two), and his plus/minus rating of -10 is the worst on the team. Moreover, Mantha has recorded just one goal on 17 shots, which puts him in line to score just seven – yes, seven – goals this season. Add in a defensive point share of -0.2 and an overall point share of -0.1, and that is not a good return on Yzerman’s first long-term investment.
There are frequent sightings of Mantha simply standing around in the defensive zone, a perception seemingly supported by his lack of blocked shots this season. He is the only player to appear in five or more games that has not registered a single blocked shot, and though there’s not an expectation for any team’s top scoring threats to sacrifice their bodies on a nightly basis, points leaders Bertuzzi (three), Larkin (one), and Ryan (four) have all led by example by recording at least one blocked shot.
This is not the first time Mantha’s effort has been called into question. Six years ago, Red Wings Senior Vice President and alternate governor Jimmy Devellano infamously ripped into Mantha, then 20 years old, surprising many Hockeytown faithful.
“Very, very, very disappointing,” Devellano told Fox Sports Detroit at the time. “And I say that with a lot of sadness. Coming out of junior, we had such high hopes for him.”
It Hasn’t Been Pretty, but There Have Been Bright Spots
The Red Wings’ most recent series against the Dallas Stars brought both frustration and hope for Mantha. He was able to make some plays that resulted in quality scoring chances and recorded an assist in Thursday’s 7-3 loss (his first point in over a week), but he also made some head-scratching plays, committing multiple turnovers that have resulted in the opposition scoring goals. In Tuesday’s game, Mantha botched a 2-on-1 attempt after failing to skate far enough into the zone, though he did redeem himself on Thursday after a wicked shot on goal resulted in an additional chance and ultimately a goal for the Red Wings.
It hasn’t been all bad. Mantha’s Corsi-For percentage of 57.0 leads the team with any player who has appeared in more than one game, a mark that is a career-best for him. Mantha has won 50 percent of his face-offs to this point and has frequently been known as a streaky player who needs to play with great confidence to register points. He has also said the right things lately, admirably taking questions this past Monday from the media that were almost entirely focused on his lack of production this season.
“Yes, when things don’t go your way right away you start overthinking,” Mantha said during the media session on Monday. “I am thinking a little bit more than I used to. If I bring it back to simple – those battles, those shots, being involved in those plays – things are just going to line up for me.”
Though his supporting cast is not made up of All-Stars, he has previously shown the ability to score without much help. After two consecutive seasons of 24+ goals, he scored 16 last season while adding 22 assists, and that was in just 43 games. Through eight this season, though, that same prowess has not been on display, despite having more talent around him.
What to Expect In The Future
After his deal in the offseason, Yzerman made it clear Mantha is part of this team’s future, so he’s in it for the long haul. That said, there is no easy answer to fix the issues that have plagued him through the opening part of the season. Perhaps it’s a coaching staff shakeup, relying on other teammates to help make plays, or maybe just a change in mentality. Whatever the change, it needs to come swiftly.
“Obviously I could sit back and be disappointed in myself,” Mantha added on Monday. “I just need to get my game going, and do what I do best.”
Red Wings fans couldn’t agree more.
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.