The Detroit Red Wings placed Jakub Vrana on waivers Tuesday afternoon to help trim the bench to 23 players before Wednesday’s battle against the New Jersey Devils at Little Caesar’s Arena.
Vrana entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program on October 19, and there was no timetable for his return. Though he’s back within the Wings organization after clearing waivers, it’s uncertain what the 26-year-old’s future holds. When asked about his time in the player assistance program, Vrana said, “There’s bigger things than hockey in life. … You’re gonna deal with some things that is sad, that is bigger than hockey.”
While the Wings did have to make some strategic moves before Wednesday’s game, there’s still some uncertainty as to why it was Vrana.
The left winger has found success with the Wings, registering eight goals and three assists in just 11 games played during the 2020-2021 season. He followed that up with a 2021-22 season that saw him pot 13 goals and six assists over the course of 26 games. In other words, he’s a player that any team would want on the ice each and every night. This is why the Wings’ decision is so unusual.
There were many ways for the Wings to make room for Robby Fabbri’s return from injury on Wednesday, such as eliminating one of the three goaltenders on the 23-man roster. Max Bultman of The Athletic reported that not only did the Wings have an unusual goaltending situation crunching the roster, but they had “several waiver-exempt young forwards it could have sent down.”
The Wings are still sitting seven points out of the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that they slip into one of those positions if they have a great showing on the back half of the season.
Knowing that the playoffs are not yet a dead dream, it would be assumed that the Wings would want to give themselves the best possible opportunity to gain some ground, which would feature Vrana making his way into the lineup. He’s proven to be a playmaker and goal-scorer, and any team in the playoff race would benefit from such a player.
It could be argued that Detroit’s upper brass exposing Vrana to waivers was a risky move, but it really wasn’t that risky. The primary reason the left-winger was passed up by every other team in the NHL is likely because of his heavy cap hit, which comes out to $5.25 million per year for the next two seasons. That’s a tough contract to take on, especially since Vrana hasn’t been playing for the past few months.
However, it’s still possible that the Wings trade Vrana before the March 3 NHL Trade Deadline, but the Wings would likely have to sweeten the deal by retaining some of his salary. Jason Gregor of TSN 1260 wrote that one could make a valid argument why a bottom team with cap space should claim Vrana. Does that mean they’d be more open to trading for him if they could get him at a reduced cost? The seems logical. As Gregor points out, Vrana had 24 and 25 goals seasons in Washington. He has scored 22 goals and 32 pts in 39 games with Detroit since the trade that sent him there. “Has $5.25m cap hit for this year and next, so there is risk, but reward is there also,” he tweeted.
It remains to be seen what Wings general manager Steve Yzerman decides to do about Vrana, but it would not be at all surprising to learn that the 26-year-old has been phased out as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.
Next: Red Wings News and Rumors: Bertuzzi, Fabbri, Vrana
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