On Saturday night during game 5 of the Cup Final, Sportsnet's Damien Cox poked the Red Wings beehive with a note about the Red Wings' willingness to trade some assets at or before this year's draft.
At deadline, DET unwilling to move either first round pick or prospect Anthony Mantha. Now willing to deal either or both.— Damien Cox (@DamoSpin) June 14, 2015
Cox followed it up with a bit of talk about Dion Phaneuf, the oft-rumored target for the Red Wings who, according to Elliotte Friedman, is looking for "a bit of mean" in a physical defenseman to play with Nik Kronwall. Of course this didn't help things, as people went on to match all three of these pieces together into one assumed trade where the Red Wings give up both Anthony Mantha and their 19th overall pick for Dion Phaneuf, a trade so lopsided it would earn Ken Holland an honorary banner in the Air Canada Centre.
There are three different things at play here and they don't directly relate to one another.
1. The Wings' first round pick is on the block. It's always on the block around the draft. If you'll remember back a couple seasons, Detroit traded their first round pick away. The assets they got back in that deal netted them Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi. The pick wasn't available at the deadline because the pick wasn't set and the pick would have had to have been used for a player. The rules have changed so the willingness to trade the pick has changed.
2. Detroit is definitely looking for a "Top-3" defenseman (to use the phrase that Holland has been parroting in interviews lately). Dion Phaneuf is available for trade. The teams talked earlier and will still probably talk. I personally feel like there's a deal to be made, but it's going to cost the Wings at least one piece I don't want to give up. That's how trades work.
3. Anthony Mantha and Detroit's "willingness" to trade him: sometime after Cox dropped his info and let fans run with it, the Detroit diggers got to work and Ken Holland immediately started walking back the national guy's rumors. Here's Holland calming the firestorm without downright quenching the flames, from Ansar Khan:
Holland said on Sunday, "I don't think 'willing' is the right word. We've got some people I would consider untouchable, both on the Detroit Red Wings and within the organization. In order to explore what's out there we got to be able to consider parting with some people. I'm not going to tell you where Mantha fits in with that until we explore the trade market."
Holland, like always, is playing things pretty close to the vest. He doesn't go on to produce a better word than "willing", but it sure sounds as though it remains a pretty damn good word for where they stand.
So if not willing, then what?
Khan goes on in his piece to say it's unlikely the Wings part with Mantha for a 30-year old defenseman, due mainly to the fact that Mantha represents something the Wings are severely lacking in their developmental pool: size and scoring on the wing. Helene St. James also writes about the possibility without actually offering an opinion on the matter.
What both diggers do offer is kind of an unspoken key to all of this: The Red Wings have their management & pro scouting meetings this week from Tuesday to Thursday. This will be the first time since Jeff Blashill's hiring that the decision makers will all be together talking about the future of the Red Wings. Any talk about a willingness to deal Anthony Mantha has come from a statement made or inferred that happened before the actual braintrust has had a chance to meet.
All in all, I do think it's possible the Wings trade Mantha. I think "willing" is still the best word and that what Holland was trying to say in regards to the latest round of rumors is that the assumption that they're "eager" to make such a trade is faulty.
Should Mantha be traded?
I haven't watched Mantha as closely as Jeff Blashill or any of the Red Wings' scouts and I still haven't made sense of what possible reason Jim Devellano would have had for making the "very very disappointing" comment about him a while back. I've read that Mantha needs to work on his engagement and positioning on the ice. I've also seen that he put up pretty similar numbers to Tomas Tatar's rookie season in Grand Rapids, despite having started the year behind on conditioning due to a broken leg.
From the games I have watched Mantha in, I can see why engagement would be something that gets brought up, but I don't think that's an actual problem of his. I think Mantha tries hard to make a difference, but that he needs some additional coaching on what that means at a higher level versus what it meant in the QMJHL. I think he's a guy who needs good habits coached into him more aggressively (especially keeping his stick on the ice when he goes to the front of the net and on how to backcheck better).
Overall, I tend to agree with Ansar Khan that a guy like Mantha should be given more of an opportunity before being discarded, especially considering that if he meets his potential, he fills one of the organization's most-pressing needs. However, I also think if the Wings can successfully fill either the need for a top pairing defenseman or a big top six scoring forward right now, then Mantha absolutely should be considered as part of that package. I'm just not sure that totally sensible and comfortable deal is out there.