The Washington Capitals season has come to a premature, and disappointing, early-end. In classic “underdog” fashion, the elite New York Islanders defence was able to shut down the Capitals offence, effectively silencing the team. There weren’t many stand-out issues with the Caps play, simply just a poor all-around effort.
But despite the upsetting end, the 2019-20 season shouldn’t be marked down as a failure. In fact, it should go down as the exact opposite. It was filled with positive storylines. Alex Ovechkin‘s continued chase of a Wayne Gretzky-record, Ilya Samsonov‘s emergence, and John Carlson‘s debated-but-likely Norris Trophy win have all kept things interesting for Washington.
Among all of these storylines, though, the one paving Jakub Vrana‘s rise is the most exciting. While his 2018-19 season was terrific, Vrana truly broke into the ‘elite’ category this season. He became a true fixture of the Capitals lineup. But his breakout is surely being noticed by plenty outside of Washington. Vrana would be the perfect trade target for a team desperate for an immediate-impact scorer; which just so happens to be a good chunk of the league.
Jakub Vrana is the Perfect Trade Target
Just How Great was Vrana’s Year?
It’s important to note that a Vrana trade is far from likely. The winger was the truest member of the Capitals’ second line. Despite the rotation of the centres, the dynamic duo formed by Vrana and Oshie was nearly as vital to the team’s success as the duo of Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin.
In his second year in a true top-six role, Vrana performed incredibly. He scored 25 goals and 52 points in 69 games, on pace for 30 goals and 62 points in a regular 82-game season. This ranked him fourth on the team in points and second in goals. On a team that’s prided their cut-throat offence, these rankings are truly something to be proud of.
The Advanced Stats
Vrana’s advanced stats only emphasize his incredible performance. He had the best xGF/60 (expected-goals-for per-60) of any Capitals player this season. In fact, his terrific 2.79 tally ranked 43rd among all NHL forward (minimum of 600 mins played). That’s 43rd among 292 players, effectively placing Vrana’s offensive abilities in the top-15 percent of the league’s forwards.
That’s… impressive. Even more impressive is the fact that, of the 42 players above Vrana, only 13 are younger than him; a group that includes Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. So not only is Jakub Vrana one of the league’s elite forwards in general, but he’s also one of the league’s elite youths, by far.
There’s plenty more to ramble on about. Vrana’s expected-Offensive-GAR (goals-above-replacement) ranked 26th among the entire league, 22nd among forwards. xGAR is a bit of a complicated stat but Vrana’s sky-high ranking shows his incredible potential to not only repeat his great offence this year but improve on it. His xOff ranked higher than young-stars Andrei Svechnikov, Jake Guentzel, and Mathew Barzal. Simply put, the numbers are high on Vrana’s ability to blossom into an elite offensive talent, even more than he already was this year.
Getting to the Trade
Vrana is good. And acquiring this level of young skill isn’t an easy thing to do. Especially on an ageing team like Washington. There’s no doubt that Vrana is near-untouchable, with his youth being a promising sign for a team that is soon to lose Backstrom, Oshie, and Ovechkin, who are 32, 33, and 34 respectively.
But it’s there that a team might find some wiggle room. The Caps early exit from the playoffs showed major holes in the team’s lineup. With $10 million in cap space, and free agents Braden Holtby and Radko Gudas rumoured to be leaving, the Capitals could truly easily retool their lineup and regain their former glory.
Re-signing Ilya Kovalchuk is priority-number-one for Washington, of course. But if they can sneak away from Vrana’s modest $3.5 million cap hit, they might also be able to throw their hat in the Taylor Hall-running while maintaining their other pending free agents.
So What Would a Trade Look Like?
As mentioned, Jakub Vrana is an elite offensive talent. Even avoiding his advanced statistics –which so many front offices continue to do — Vrana is an incredible goal scorer with stardom ahead of him.
But the Capitals prospect system hasn’t amounted to much. Daniel Sprong headlines the group but after him, it’s hard to find the next-up that isn’t a goaltender. If an opposing team can convince the Capitals that a Vrana trade can boost them into contention for Taylor Hall (who has said he only wants to play for a Stanley Cup-contender), and can deliver multiple top-end prospects, then they may be able to wriggle Vrana out of Washington.
It’s hard to narrow down the group of teams that would want to spend a lot to bring in Vrana. Yes his amazing offence would be an immediate boost, at a cheap price, and he has a bright future ahead of him, but many teams are either too uncompetitive to warrant his talents (Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators) or don’t have the necessary assets to afford him. With that said, though, there are a handful that could propose attractive packages.
It’s impossible to mention high-end acquisitions without mentioning the Colorado Avalanche. Their amazing cap situation is flanked by, quite literally, the most sound roster in the NHL. They are Cup favourites already but with plenty of money to spend, they could become a vast dynasty for the next few years.
And this sound roster is, somehow, backed by amazing prospect depth. If the Avs wanted to spend big to acquire yet another elite goal-scorer, they’d have the assets to do so. Putting together a package containing a mix of Bowen Byram, Tyson Jost, Conor Timmins, Alex Newhook, Nikolai Kovalenko, and draft picks could force Washington’s hand.
The Colorado prospect system is deep. Getting three or four assets out of it, plus draft picks or even cheap-NHL-talent, could be enticing for Washington. It’d be enough to rejuvenate Washington’s pool with plenty of future, terrific NHLers. And what Colorado would lose in future assets they’d gain in an incredible Vrana. The sky would be the limit for Vrana, when alongside Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. He could easily rival 40 goals, at least, on an Avs team that’s had scary-good offence through-and-through.
Jakub Vrana is cheap, amazing impactful, and young. He has all of the trademarks of what the Avs are looking for to really perfect their lineup. Sure, future cap issues would surely arise, but sacrificing some of the prospect pool for a short period of incredible success is a fun thought.
The Florida Panthers are in a very, very bad situation. Earlier in the year, their owners told then-GM Dale Tallon to cut $10 million in salary by the 2020-21 season. This is what sparked the very rushed, and poorly reviewed Vincent Trocheck trade. It’s also what will spark the departure of one of either Mike Hoffman or Evgenii Dadonov.
What’s worse, the Panthers prospect pool is absolutely nothing to be proud of. A pool where Serron Noel ranks among the top is… bleak.
But there’s a silver lining that could have Florida interested in Jakub Vrana. Both Hoffman and Dadonov are prized for their goal-scoring but neither can produce at the rate of Vrana. Both would also cost double what Vrana is due next season. And, in hockey, there is one sure-fire way to massively boost sales: a long playoff run or even a Stanley Cup.
Vrana wouldn’t fix all of the issues in Florida. But he’d be a serious, serious upgrade from Hoffman or Dadonov, with much cheaper paychecks. Florida was only a few points off of a Wild Card during the regular season and could easily make the playoffs with an upgrade.
The Panthers are on the verge of, quite frankly, death. Asking their GM to void $10 million in salary is a bleak request and, to some, writing on the wall for a team that’s had a decrease in attendance over the decade.
If Florida wanted to go for broke, they could trade the lot for Vrana. A package containing some of Owen Tippett, Aleksi Heponiemi, Vladislav Kolyachonok, Grigori Denisenko, Riley Stillman, and again draft picks, could be interesting. It’d be selling everything they had but Florida might not have another choice. Shooting for the stars right now could be the difference in a Florida move and Sunrise hockey staying put. Jakub Vrana is an upgrade that could push a desperate Florida team to one of the greatest comeback stories in NHL history. He’d be worth giving away the handful of gold that Florida has.
Plenty of Others
There are plenty of other teams that could interest Washington in Vrana-chatters. The Boston Bruins showed they clearly wanted more scoring with their acquisition of Ondrej Kase earlier in the year. The Pittsburgh Penguins are desperate for a shakeup and may be interested in dealing away future stars, just like they did in dealing Calen Addison to the Minnesota Wild for Jason Zucker. The Nashville Predators feel close to competing but are clearly missing their spark; one that Vrana undoubtedly brings.
But ultimately, all of these “trade talks” are wishful thinking at most. Colorado and Florida are far from likely candidates for such a high-pricetag name like Vrana. And, really, Vrana will not be getting traded. His amazing talent is only going to grow as he gets older. He’s the future star of Washington.
But breaking down what potential packages could look like is a fun thought. Washington could charge an extreme price for Vrana, whose 30-goal pace this season was terrific and would skyrocket up if he was featured even more prominently than he already is with the Caps. He’s not going to be traded but is a prime example of a name that fans of opposing teams desperately dream of having. In return for dealing Jakub Vrana, the Caps would easily receive some promising prospects and the cap space to chase Taylor Hall.