On Tuesday, the Detroit Red Wings announced that they had re-signed Jakub Vrana to a three-year contract.
After coming over from the Washington Capitals in the Anthony Mantha trade, Vrana posted 11 points in 11 contests with the Red Wings, including a four-goal game against the Dallas Stars.
Heading into the 2021-22 season, the Czech winger is expected to be a key contributor in Detroit’s top six. Vrana’s new contract comes with a price tag befitting such a role.
Vrana Cashes In
First of all, credit to THW colleague Devin Little for predicting a three-year, $5.5 million AAV contract for Vrana. Of all the predictions offered by various hockey analysts, this is the closest I’ve seen to the final terms of the deal.
Vrana’s actual salary escalates over the three years. Puck Pedia has the details below:
For a top-six winger, this is a fair deal. In fact, you could argue that Vrana was already worth $5.25 million per year. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn previously rated Vrana as worth $6.4 million per season based on his on-ice impact – and that was before he arrived in Hockeytown (from ‘NHL trade grades: Capitals overpay for Anthony Mantha in deal with Red Wings’ – The Athletic – 4/12/21).
Questionable Term from Red Wings’ Perspective
When the contract was announced, the three-year term took me by surprise. Vrana will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) when the deal expires. Further, he’ll be 28 years-old, meaning he will be nearing the tail end of his prime – but not quite there yet.
If Vrana performs as expected, he’ll set himself up for a long-term contract that will take him into his 30s. It’s fair to assume he’ll command a raise over his current $5.25 AAV – both based on his expected performance over the next three years and the fact that the NHL’s salary cap upper limit will be higher in 2024.
So from an outside perspective, the contract term came across as curious. It was the same case with Tyler Bertuzzi, who will also be a UFA when his two-year deal expires.
My preference for Vrana was a one-year contract that would allow the Red Wings to re-evaluate his worth next offseason (Vrana would still be an RFA) and plan a long-term contract accordingly. The risk of a higher-AAV long-term contract would be offset by the certainty that comes with a full season’s worth of data on Vrana skating in Detroit’s top six.
That said, there are a few possible explanations for the three-year term and the risk/reward balance that comes with it. For one, maybe Vrana preferred a contract that would quickly take him to UFA status in a post-flat salary cap environment. You can’t fault players for wanting to maximize their lifetime earnings.
From Detroit’s standpoint, perhaps the organization prioritized salary cap flexibility. Vrana’s deal doesn’t break the bank or lock the Red Wings into a five-plus-year commitment. Steve Yzerman could also be banking on contract negotiations being in a different place three years down the road. Advanced analytics and new data streams could make predicting future player production much easier at that point, leaving little wiggle room while negotiating.
Finally, it’s entirely possible that Yzerman isn’t overly concerned with pending UFAs. The team is improving and is expected to get even better over the next few years. If players want to play in Hockeytown, they’ll re-sign – pending UFA or not. If they have other priorities, the Red Wings will find a way to adjust their roster management strategy.
This is only speculation, though. We may never know what exactly led to the agreed-upon three-year term.
Overall, the Red Wings got a great AAV with Vrana’s contract, but the term does present some questions. Regardless, Detroit locked up a valuable piece of their core and did not hamper themselves financially.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.