Anthony Mantha was accustomed to hating this time of year.
The 26-year-old, a 2013 first-round pick of the Red Wings, became a regular for Detroit in 2016-17 -- right after the franchise's NHL record streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances ended. The Red Wings entered a rebuild, with no end in sight. Finishing toward the bottom of the standings year after year became a grind.
"It sucks," Mantha said. "You're playing hockey because you want to play in the playoffs. And when you don't have the chance, and you just pack every summer to go back home, and you're like, 'I'll just take two weeks off and start training again.' I mean, there's no motivation in that."
Mantha was viewed as a core player for Detroit to build around, alongside his usual linemates Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin. He signed a four-year, $22.8 million extension ahead of this season, taking him through 2023-24. He bought a house, and was in the process of remodeling the basement into a man cave, adding a wine cellar, gym equipment and golf simulator. Then, last month, he woke up from a pregame nap to a text from GM Steve Yzerman: "Call me ASAP."
Just like that, the trajectory of his career changed.
Mantha was traded to Washington for a massive package: Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 second-rounder. The hockey world was shocked. So was Mantha.