Why The Capitals Can’t “Kucherov” Anthony Mantha

Not much else needs to be said about the shocker of a trade that was Jakub Vrana for Anthony Mantha at the trade deadline last season. What else needs to be talked about? It was out of nowhere, it took pretty much everyone by surprise, time to move on with your new player.

Both of those guys have had some success and both have had their issues on their new teams. Both are facing the same issue right now and this is a shoulder injury. In Mantha’s case, he sustained his shoulder injury in early November against the Florida Panthers.

As of right now, there is no timeline for his return to the lineup. From everything I know, which is admittedly and obviously nothing, he should return for the playoffs, if not some time before. I could easily be wrong, maybe he’ll miss more time than I think. In my mind, it looks like maybe a mid April return for Mantha? We’ll see.

The Washington Capitals are a team that will probably need some help in some areas. As good as this team is, there are holes at the same time. Goaltending is becoming more and more of a question. Maybe winger depth is something the team wants to look at as well with injuries continuing to happen to certain guys and COVID having to ability to take anybody out at any time.

A trade seems likely for the Caps. Whether that would be a more veteran and reliable netminder or forward depth that’s up for debate. Something that is not up for debate is the Capitals current salary cap situation.

The Caps do not have a lot of wiggle room in terms of the cap. Right now they have about $2.5m in space and that is with Mantha and his $5.7m on LTIR. If the Capitals want to make a trade they seemingly have to find some extra cap space out of nowhere.

An idea I’ve seen multiple times on social media is placing Mantha on injured reserve until the playoffs, make a trade, technically be over the hard cap and bring back Mantha for the playoffs. That now being known as “The Kucherov” or maybe “Kucheroving” someone. Most hockey fans will know what that means, but if you don’t it’s fairly easy to understand. 

Basically, you stash money on LTIR, even though the guy isn’t hurt, or at least not injured any longer, and bring him back right when the playoffs begin when there is no salary cap.

I don’t think a move like this makes sense for the Capitals. Do the Capitals maybe need some help in other areas. Yes. But holding Mantha out for the playoffs is a bad idea to me for one big reason: Games played.

Mantha has played in 24 games for the Capitals. If he was just coming into the NHL he would be considered a rookie. You need to play more than 25 games in one season to not be a rookie. Now this guy knows the NHL, Mantha has played in more than 300 games in his career, I’m not saying he needs to play to figure out the NHL as a whole.

However, Mantha does need to play as much as possible with this team before the playoffs begin. I think it would be unfair to Mantha to say he has struggled in D.C. but at the same time I’m not sure he has exactly found his place either.

Mantha came out of the gates firing after the trade last season. He scored all four of his goals with the Caps in his first four games with the team. That being a franchise record. He did not score a goal after that, none for the rest of the season and zero in the playoffs. He also had two goals in ten games to start this season. Not bad, not great.

Mantha needs games with this team. He has to find his place and how to play with his teammates. Nikita Kucherov did not have to worry about that at all with the Lightning last season. Kucherov had been with the Bolts for years. He had helped his team make long playoff runs, he was a key player on that team for years. Mantha is trying to figure out how to be a depth player and having only played on his team for less than thirty games.

Is it fair to him to put him on injured reserve, go get help via trade, and then bring Mantha back for the playoffs. Is it fair to him to have him play 10 games this season and then expect him to come back and make an impact in the postseason? What if you do that and he struggles? What’s more likely? Him coming back at the start of the playoffs and tears it up, or him coming back after major surgery, having played 24 games for this franchise and he’s unable to find his game?

I get fans want this team to be better. They look at the trade market and they see big goalie names that could help this team and they get hungry or greedy. The Caps do have a guy that could help them. They just need him to play some games.

Keeping Mantha out until the playoffs is probably not a good idea. You need to get him in the lineup, you need him to play with his teammates, you have to get him comfortable in the team, either for the first time or again.