As the NHL Trade Deadline approaches, the Detroit Red Wings are finally getting two major pieces inserted back into their line up with Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou, both recently returning from injury. Mantha had been out since December, while Athanasiou had been sidelined since the new year.
Now, these players returning won’t make much difference in the overall standings for this season. The team is on pace to have one of the worst seasons in the history of the NHL, having won only 14 of the 59 games they have played. But the return of these two high impact players could lead to a favorable finish to the season. And, more importantly, confidence going into the offseason.
The Return of Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou
Anthony Mantha – An Elite Sniper in the Making
On a team that struggles to score goals, the return of an up-and-coming elite-level sniper is always a positive. The Red Wings have scored a league-low 116 goals this season and have been shut-out seven times this season. Three of those shut-outs have come within their last seven games.
Mantha was expected to have a significant breakout this season after his first 25 goal campaign last year. He matched expectations quickly, tallying a four-goal game in the team’s home opener. The next game he tallied another goal, ultimately mounting a whopping five goals and seven points in the first two games of the year. But then began the inconsistency Detroit fans have grown accustomed to.
Over the next 18 games, he only scored six goals, with three different stretches of three-or-more games without scoring a goal at all. But it wasn’t all bad. Over those same 18 games, he managed another six assists for 12 total points in that span. But he was only held entirely off the score sheet eight times.
What is most important is that he is driving and creating offense overall. Including the two games since his return from injury, Mantha has 27 points in 31 games played. That is a .87 point-per-game average, which would put him at a 71-point-pace over the 82-game schedule. A vast improvement and the breakout fans, coaching staff, and management have been expecting.
Andreas Athanasiou – To Trade or Not to Trade
Athanasiou has had an incredibly maligned career as a Red Wing. He is a player with immense levels of talent, which has led to very high expectations for him. And this season may very well be the most important one of his career as he will be a restricted free agent at the end of it.
There is much debate as to whether he should be traded at the deadline this year or remain as part of the rebuilding franchises core. In this, his fourth full season, these questions are more cause for debate than ever. And the fan base has been back and forth on him from one year to the next every season as it is.
What do we know about Athanasiou as a player? He is extraordinarily fast, has a wicked shot, and can be a tremendous playmaker. He is the poster child for high-risk, high-reward players without a doubt. And this is why fans, and likely management, are so divided on his worth.
His defense reliability has been the biggest concern in his game. Which, in part, is where Athanasiou’s high-risk, high-reward style of play comes into the balance of evaluating him as a player. It also leads down the rabbit hole of questioning of why this area of his game hasn’t improved. Is it the coaching, motivation, ‘good player on a bad team’? Is he a bit of a late bloomer, or is this just the type of player he is? We don’t know the answer to these questions.
When judging worth, we’re not looking at what he is capable of necessarily. But we’re looking at it first in terms of is it worth it to keep the player as part of the team moving forward or is it more beneficial to move on from him and bring in new assets for the future. After taking that point into account, then we can look at his production. We know the main intangibles that come with him, but how does it translate into success on the ice.
What has Athanasiou Done for the Wings Lately?
Athanasiou’s numbers have seen continually improving from season-to-season. He reached a new level last year after scoring 30 goals and 54 points in 76 games. Expectations had never been higher after last season’s performance and the fans had never backed him as strongly either. But that all changed as rapidly as a raging river.
Once again, just like with Mantha, consistency is vital and what fans were hoping to see this season finally. And unfortunately, they’re not getting it. In 42 games thus far, Athanasiou has only scored eight goals and totaled 22 points; far from the pace expected from him after last year.
This lack of consistency from Athanasiou has led many to call for his trade. But these same inconsistencies that lead people to want him traded could also be the reason teams wouldn’t want him, or at least wouldn’t pay an equal price in return. Therefore the debate rages onward.
Overall Impact for the Red Wings
What is known is that with both players in the line-up, the Detroit Red Wings are a much more formidable team to face. They bring high-end offensive driven by their combination of size, speed, and playmaking capabilities. They add scoring depth and talent to a line up that is sorely lacking both. And they diversify the powerplay, which is the fourth-worst in the league, with their playmaking abilities.
Mantha, who also has had his share of trade rumors, seems to be a safe bet to remain in Detroit for a long time to come. He should continue developing as he now skates into his prime years and becomes a leader on the team.
Athanasiou’s future seems to swing back and forth, steadily like a pendulum. Fans all know of his capabilities, both the good and the bad. But it is a matter of what is deemed best for the team. Every factor laid out here, and then some, are points for keeping him and trading him all at the same time. It makes for a difficult decision for management when looking at all factors.
The answer to Athanasiou’s fate will be presented to us all soon enough as the NHL Trade Deadline, February 24th, is just over a week away. Not only that, but the answer to what the Detroit Red Wings are made of will be answered as the season reaches its final 23 games. Will the finish as one of histories worst teams? Or will they find the skill and drive that got them all to this level and finish the season in a way that the players themselves, management, and the great city of Detroit can be proud of? With the two of the team’s best players returning, the Wings seem to be the only drivers of their fate.