NHL trade grades: Anthony Mantha a shrewd pickup for Golden Knights

Vegas Golden Knights get: Forward Anthony Mantha

Washington Capitals get: 2024 second-round pick, 2026 fourth-round pick (also retain 50 percent of Mantha’s salary)

Sean Gentille: It’s wild to think, given how the previous few years of Mantha’s career had played out, that we’re talking about him as a potentially consequential deadline addition. But here we are, and here are the Golden Knights.

Mantha, after two-plus largely miserable seasons in Washington, has spent most of 2022-23 looking like the players the Caps thought they were acquiring at the 2021 deadline. He’s enormous and skilled, which was never in doubt. He’s also healthy, which hadn’t been the case for a while, and motivated, thanks to the four-year, $5.7 million AAV contract he’d signed in Detroit that’s expiring in the summer.

The result, after three years in the wilderness, has been one of the league’s most efficient five-on-five scorers; Mantha’s 1.49 goals per 60 is seventh in the NHL among regular players, and he’s already at the 20-goal mark for the first time since 2020-21. The possession numbers are there, too; the best of Washington’s forwards, actually. Mantha is carrying an expected goals percentage of about 57 and an actual goals percentage just a few ticks behind. That’s a player worth adding for any contender in search of some middle-six pop, and the Golden Knights qualify as such. To do it at a cost that still leaves the cap space and assets necessary to get more help is even more impressive.

Think of it this way: Vegas is one of the teams interested in acquiring Jake Guentzel from the Penguins. If the Golden Knights do nothing else between now and Friday, they can still add Guentzel (if Pittsburgh retains a portion salary) and, potentially, meet the Penguins’ ask. Nothing has changed. Vegas has its first-round picks in 2024 and 2025 and the same prospect pool as it did on Tuesday morning. Not bad.

Leaving space for more additions, Guentzel or otherwise, is a particularly wise move here, too. Productive as Mantha has been, the track record remains spotty. He’s not a physical player despite his size, either, but has enough big boys throughout the Vegas lineup to mitigate that. The Golden Knights aren’t signing him to a contract extension, though. They’re not asking him to be a long-term piece on their first line. They don’t seem to be putting all their eggs in his basket. They’re chasing the Stanley Cup, and Mantha gives them something they’ll need to make that happen.

On the Caps’ side, the deal is … fine. Mantha is far from a wart-free player, this season’s heater aside, and there’s a bigger fish in the rental market pond, but you’d still like to see 50 percent retention get a first-rounder from someone. An adequate return gets an adequate grade.

Golden Knights grade: B+

Capitals grade: C

Shayna Goldman: Mantha’s tenure with the Capitals was mostly disappointing after seeming like a great fit on paper when traded from Detroit. But this year, he finally started revitalizing his game to become a very solid middle-six forward.

With 34 points in 56 games, he is scoring at the second-best rate of his career which trails only his career-year with the Red Wings in 2019-20. Two things stand out with his scoring: his totals aren’t inflated by the power play, with 76 percent of his points being tallied at five-on-five, and his primary contributions to the team’s scoring. In all situations, just six of those 34 points are secondary. Despite not always having the results, Mantha has had a positive impact on the Capitals’ expected goal creation and suppression over the years at five-on-five — and that remained the case this season.

All of that makes for a really solid addition to the Golden Knights. Forward depth and the ability to roll three skilled, versatile scoring lines was a real strength for Vegas on its path to the Stanley Cup last year, which few teams were able to stack up to. Adding Mantha helps replenish the loss of Reilly Smith, who Vegas couldn’t afford to keep (or adequately replace) over the summer. Mantha may not kill penalties like Smith did for Vegas, but he brings size, strength and two-way utility to the lineup at even strength. The only question will be if he can maintain his scoring ways, considering his elevated shooting percentage. Maybe having more support in Vegas will help him, after playing on a weaker team so far this season.

Mantha seems like a good bet for Vegas because he isn’t joining the team expected to be The Guy. And that management was able to add him at 50 percent salary retention leaves them room to keep adding, and maybe seek out someone who would make more of a splash. The cost of acquisition with all of that in mind is fine. The Golden Knights are focused on their window right now, so draft picks are more valuable to them as trade assets.

The return is a bit more underwhelming for the Capitals, considering what a low-key good addition Mantha has the potential to be. The Guenztel market may hold up the winger market, but there are a lot of teams looking for a boost so it seems like Washington could have pushed for more especially since they were willing to retain salary.

Golden Knights grade: A-

Capitals grade: C

(Photo: Geoff Burke / USA Today)

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