You might be asking yourself, haven't I read something like this before? You have, except now the circumstances have changed. Last month, the Detroit Red Wings reassigned Jakub Vrana to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League following his departure from the NHL's Player Assistance Program. It's been over a month since his reassignment and with each passing day, it seems less and less likely Vrana will wear a Red Wings sweater again. If Detroit doesn't see Vrana as part of their plans, the NY Islanders should take a chance on the 26-year-old forward.
Vrana passed through waivers last month unclaimed likely due to the size of his cap hit. He's on the books for $5.25 million this year and next, a considerable risk to take if a team is going to claim him and it doesn't work out. However, now he's in the AHL and according to Nick Alberga of DailyFacoff, the Red Wings plan to either trade the Czech forward or buy him out in the offseason.
Before entering the assistance program, there was no denying Vrana's skills. He's a talented forward with high hockey IQ, speed to burn, and a lethal shot. In the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, Vrana scored 24 and 25 goals respectively. Since then, he's missed time and has struggled to put together consistent play, however, he appears healthy in the AHL this season having scored six goals and 11 points in 17 games. Just this week, he's scored four goals in four games and six in his last seven.
Yet, his performance in the AHL doesn't tell Steve Yzerman that he belongs on the varsity roster with the Red Wings, a forward group that after Dylan Larkin and David Perron certainly has plenty of room for improvement. Some speculate that the reason Yzerman hasn't recalled Vrana is because of character issues, however, according to James Nichols of The Fourth Period, he's been told: "it’s not a character issue with Vrana and that he’s in a good place."
It's easy to see that to be true, too, as he opened up to The Athletic regarding what he wants his future to look like.
“To be honest with you, I’m a proud Red Wing,” Vrana said. “I love to have that logo on my chest. I wish I could play for them for the rest of my life — I mean that’s what I want, obviously. Everybody does. (But) that’s looking way too ahead of us right now. I’m just focusing from day to day, and to be (a) part of the team up there again, and the rest will come. I tell you, like I can’t control whatever happens outside, with what people’s decisions are. I’m just a player, and everybody knows that I want to play there.”
That sure sounds like a player who is in the right state of mind and to boot, his body of work on the ice supports that fact. So, how do the Islanders come into play?
Well, Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello could certainly wait until the Red Wing buy him out in the summer (if that happens) and be one of the suitors that line up to sign him for his services. No one claimed him on waivers before, but with the chance to sign him to their own terms at what's likely far less than his current $5.25 million cap hit, it's worth the risk.
Or, Lamoriello could get ahead of the game and make a deal for him. Of course, it won't be easy. The only way it makes sense for the Islanders to do so is by asking the Red Wings to retain salary. It's entirely possible that doesn't interest Yzerman, but a look at the CapFriendly buyout calculator will tell you that by the end of Vrana's buyout, the Red Wings would save a total of $1,916,667 if bought out on June 15th, whereas, in a trade, they'd save $2.625 million if they retained half of his salary for the one year remaining on his contract.
The cost? It all depends on how much Yzerman really wants to save that extra money via trade rather than a buyout. If he's willing to move Vrana for a mid to late-round draft pick and a B-rated prospect, it certainly seems like the kind of low-risk/high-reward situation the Islanders could benefit from pairing Vrana with the newly acquired Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal.