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Red Wings should sign Dylan Larkin for as long as possible

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For all the things that went wrong for the Edmonton Oilers last season, a funny thing snuck under the radar: Leon Draisaitl was probably worth the money.

Granted, that’s a relative thing, but from here, $8.5 million per year doesn’t seem so outrageous for a 70-point player who showed some promise without Connor McDavid, became dominant at little things like face-offs, and won’t turn 23 until October.

While I’d argue that the Oilers could have saved some money if they extended Draisaitl as early as possible instead of allowing him to break through during a contract year, the truth is that this situation is probably superior in the big picture. Just think of what a difference-making center like Draisaitl will cost by 2024-25, the final year of his current deal.

The Detroit Red Wings should follow a similar train of thought when it comes to their own blue-chip center, Dylan Larkin.

Possible parallels

The Athletic’s Craig Custance provided a detailed breakdown of Larkin’s contract with the Red Wings as an RFA, a read that’s easily worth your time. Every indication is that the negotiations have been healthy, including this quote from Larkin following the end of Detroit’s 2017-18 season.

“It’s got to make sense for the team as well as myself,” Larkin said. “I don’t want to be a burden on the cap or for the team. I really want to do something that — obviously it’s my future, when I want to have a family later in life, it’s something that can be pretty significant — but I also want to win and I want to be on a team that can have good players and can be competitive.”

Sure, there’s always a chance that this is Classic Lip Service, yet quotes like these just as often do portend a player who wants to find a compromise everyone can live with.

Custance also compares Larkin to Draisaitl (sub required), rightly noting that it would be risky for the Red Wings to assume that Larkin could make the leap to be the 70-point player Draisaitl’s been during the past two seasons. After all, Larkin scored 63 points in 2017-18, easily the best output of his also-very-young career.

If I were in Ken Holland’s shoes, I would have approached the free agent summer totally differently, I’d sign Larkin for as long as possible, even if it meant rolling the dice a bit when it comes to AAV.

I mean, sure, it’s enticing to try to land a big bargain. David Pastrnak, one of Custance’s comparables, looks like a serious bargain for Boston at his deal-with-the-devil $6.66M. Matt Cane’s remarkably accurate contract estimates call for Larkin to land six years at a $6.32M clip, which is the sort of situation that can make bargain-hunters salivate.

And, no doubt, the Red Wings could use some wins. Just check the scary money and term for Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, and Danny DeKeyser if you need a reason to cringe.

A Larkin contract shouldn’t be about all of that, as ideally, his term would far outlast even Holland’s worst opuses.

One more intriguing comparison

While Larkin doesn’t boast the exact same ceiling, the Red Wings could luck into a sweet, sweet deal like the Colorado Avalanche did with their lightning-fast center Nathan MacKinnon.

The Avalanche signed MacKinnon in July 2016, when he was coming off of a 52-point season, and he followed it up with a modest 53 points. But after almost winning a Hart Trophy via a brilliant 39-goal, 97-point season, the 22-year-old’s $6.3M cap hit through 2022-23 stands as arguably the best steal in the NHL. Things are looking up for Colorado right now, yet eventually GM Joe Sakic should be judged by whether or not he can leverage that jaw-dropping bargain to greater success.

Speed isn’t the only area where MacKinnon and Larkin share some fascinating similarities, either.

MacKinnon had long been a low-percentage shooter before 2017-18, hitting a low point of 6.4 percent in 2016-17. That changed last season, playing some role in his leap from “very good” to “one of the best.”

What if Larkin can parallel MacKinnon in the near future? He only scored 16 goals this past season, but Larkin connected at just a 6.9 shooting percentage (232 SOG in 82 games). Like MacKinnon, Larkin’s career has been a bit on the quantity over quality side, as his career average is just 8.9 percent.

The nightmare scenario is that he simply lacks shooting talent, yet the ideal one is that a spike is looming. Sometimes people get a little too wrapped up in believing that every prospect simply hasn’t unlocked some fleeting potential, but that’s a lot more reasonable in a guy who’s a) already produced, b) will turn just 22 on July 30, and c) probably has, at times, tried to do too much on bad teams.

Beyond the bridge

Alongside sending baffling contracts to veterans who are unlikely to be part of any broader solution, the Red Wings also frustrate a bit in only signing Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha to two-year deals.

Yes, the cap hits were very reasonable, but the Red Wings face the very real threat of having to pay up for more expensive deals once they’re in a better situation to more viably contend. That will be the time when they’ll wish they rolled the dice with younger talent boasting some room to grow, particularly since those same players are easier to trade if management sours on them.

Of course, there’s the possibility that neither player wanted to ink a lengthier deal with the Red Wings, so getting something done is absolutely better than nothing.

Either way, handing a substantial, prime-covering contract to Larkin would serve as quite the balm for the concerns of future-minded fans and critics.

***

Look, there’s no denying that the Red Wings’ cap situation is tight, even with Johan Franzen headed for LTIR. Such concerns raise the degree of difficulty for signing Larkin, and a reasonable six-year deal certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Smart teams find bargains when they can, and show foresight in their planning.

Such descriptions haven’t exactly fit the bill for the Red Wings in some time, but if they want to get back to that level, they’ll need to get things right with players such as Larkin. He’s easily worth the risk.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Schwartz stuns Jets, completing Blues’ comeback in dying seconds

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These two teams finished with nearly identical records in the regular season, so it seems appropriate that almost every game in this series has been decided by a razor thin margin. This one was no different, though it had an extra element to it as the Blues surged to a 3-2 comeback win over Winnipeg in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead.

The Blues found themselves chasing almost immediately. Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry scored just 12 seconds into the game, exciting the hometown crowd, which started a “you look nervous” chant at Blues rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. Only the netminder wasn’t rattled.

Binnington held firm and while he did surrender a second goal, this time to Kevin Hayes, later in the period, he kept the Blues in this game early. A lot of credit also has to go to the Blues for their killing of a double minor to Robert Thomas midway through the first, preventing this game from getting away from them.

All the same, the Jets maintained their 2-0 lead for most of the contest. It wasn’t until 1:29 of the third period that the Blues finally got on the board thanks to a power-play goal by Ryan O'Reilly. He fired the puck in front of the net off a rebound, ending what had been until that point a shutout bid for Connor Hellebuyck.

Even after that, the period wasn’t all Blues. Winnipeg actually led in shots in the final frame 9-8, but the Blues continued to find ways to capitalize. Their comeback wasn’t without intrigue either. Brayden Schenn‘s game-tying goal needed to be reviewed because the net was dislodged at the same time the puck went in. Ultimately it was ruled as a good goal because Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien pushed St. Louis’ Oskar Sundqvist into the net, which is what dislodged it.

The comeback was completed with just 15 seconds to spare on a goal by Jaden Schwartz.

With that, the home team has lost every game in this series and four of the five contests have been decided by just one goal. Even with how close this series has been, this contest had a different tone to it thanks to the dramatic comeback. It will be a tough pill for the Jets to swallow, but they have to bounce right back to avoid elimination in Game 6.

Blues-Jets Game 6 from Enterprise Center will be Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Capitals think Foegele hit was dirty, Oshie expected to miss playoff time

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Warren Foegele gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead 17 seconds into what would be a slim 2-1 win in Game 4, but that’s not why the Washington Capitals imply that he shouldn’t suit up for Carolina in Game 5.

Instead, the Capitals are unhappy with Foegele’s hit with about five minutes remaining in the third period. While Foegele received a two-minute boarding major for his check on T.J. Oshie, plenty of Capitals believe that Foegele went over the line in a way that should prompt a harsher punishment.

You can judge the hit and fallout for yourself in the video above this post’s headline.

For one thing, Capitals head coach Todd Reirden called it a dangerous hit, and hinted that Oshie might be out for a while. The Department of Player Safety factors injuries into the supplementary discipline decision-making process (for better or worse), so Oshie being injured could play into this potential situation. Oshie certainly looked to be in serious distress after that awkward fall into the boards.

Reirden said Oshie won’t “play anytime soon.”

You can see from the hit video that Alex Ovechkin was incensed by Foegele’s hit. While Reirden’s most interesting comment seems to focus on supplementary discipline (again, indirectly), Ovechkin’s most interesting beef seems to be about the in-game penalty being a mere two-minute minor.

“It’s a dirty play,” Ovechkin said, via Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post. “It has to be not two minutes. It has to be a different call.”

See/hear more from Ovechkin and Reirden here:

For his part, Foegele explained that he was trying to lift Oshie’s stick and “give him a little nudge,” and that he wasn’t trying to “hurt him or anything,” according to Khurshudyan.

Rod Brind’Amour certainly didn’t seem to think it was too bad of a hit:

The Capitals didn’t provide an official update regarding how much time Oshie might mix, and it’s possible that more information will surface in the next few days. Of course, with this Round 1 series headed for a minimum of six games after Carolina tied things up 2-2, it also could be a while before we really know how long Oshie might be out, as teams are more secretive than spy agencies with injury information during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Injuries have factored into this Round 1 series so far, although the bad news has mostly been on Carolina’s side. Most memorably, head coach Rod Brind’Amour was unhappy with Alex Ovechkin after a one-sided fight with Andrei Svechnikov left Svechnikov with a concussion.

We’ll see what happens regarding Foegele and Oshie, but if there were any concerns about these two teams drumming up the playoff disdain many love to see in hockey, then you can probably put those worries to bed. With that in mind, some advice: you probably shouldn’t drop the gloves with Alex Ovechkin.

The Capitals and Hurricanes will break this 2-2 series tie in Game 5 at Capital One Arena on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC (livestream)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hurricanes tie playoff series vs. Capitals with Game 4 win

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The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t content to merely compete in their first postseason since 2009; they want to win.

After hanging but falling short in Games 1 and 2 in Washington, the Hurricanes “returned serve” against the Capitals during the two games in Carolina, including Thursday’s 2-1 win in Game 4. The series now shifts back to Washington tied 2-2.

This was a far tighter contest than Carolina’s 5-0 win from Game 3. The Hurricanes earned an edge in possession stats, but not a huge one, while Washington produced a 31-24 shots on goal edge. With Carolina protecting its slim lead, some of that edge might be exaggerated, so you can basically chalk this one up as plain-old close.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Hurricanes probably didn’t love holding their breath at times, but now they know that they can defeat the defending champion Capitals in both tight (Game 4) and lopsided (Game 3) affairs.

Warren Foegele had ups and downs, among others. He scored the 1-0 goal just 17 seconds in, but also took what could have been a lethal penalty. He was given a two-minute boarding minor for a questionable hit on T.J. Oshie with just a bit more than five minutes remaining in regulation. Was a two-minute minor a just call, or should this have drawn a major? Considering playoff officiating, it’s tough to imagine a harsher punishment in such a key situation … but maybe more will come from the Department of Player Safety?

[MORE: Ovechkin, Capitals react to that hit, Oshie could miss time.]

Alex Ovechkin scored his customary power-play goal for what would be Washington’s only tally of the game, but the threat of a tied game was definitely there in Game 4. The Hurricanes were able to limit Washington’s chances, although Petr Mrazek had to come up big with a point-blank save against Evgeny Kuznetsov to secure the win.

Pierre McGuire called this “The Mrazek Miracle.”

Goaltending was a question for Carolina heading into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Mrazek’s been heating up lately (after finishing the regular season on a pretty torrid pace, too).

Injuries are piling up for the Hurricanes, yet they’re showing that they very much belong in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and now they’ve turned this into, essentially, a “best-of-three” series with the defending champs.

The Capitals and Hurricanes will break this 2-2 series tie in Game 5 at Capital One Arena on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC (livestream)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Playoff injuries continue to pile up for Hurricanes

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As the Carolina Hurricanes hope to make it a long and successful Round 1 series against the Washington Capitals, and a deep run during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs in general, they’re not just facing talented opponents. They’re also facing “themselves,” and not just in a mental sense — they have to overcome the limitations on their own bodies.

Injuries are one of the top hurdles you have to overcome alongside bad bounces and hot goalies.

The good news for Carolina so far in Game 4 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream) is that the Hurricanes went up 1-0 with a Warren Foegele goal just 17 seconds into the contest.

The bad news is that while that good trend of a hot streak continued, a negative trend of injuries also persists. Carolina already came into Game 4 without Andrei Svechnikov because of that ill-fated fight against Alex Ovechkin, and they were also missing beefy forward Micheal Ferland thanks to an upper-body injury.

It’s unclear if Jordan Martinook will end up missing significantly time, but he needed help off the ice after an awkward bump into the boards. Martinook briefly returned toward the end of the first period, yet was not seen on the Hurricanes bench to begin the second, and the team eventually announced that he would not return for Game 4.

(You can see that unfortunate bump in the video above this post’s headline.)

Martinook isn’t a huge loss on his own, but when you consider that part of Carolina’s strength is depth and scoring by committee, the ice packs are really piling up. Consider that:

  • Martinook scored a career-high 15 goals and tied a career-high with 25 points this season, and had an assist coming into Game 4.
  • Ferland finished fourth in team scoring with 40 points, including 17 goals, and may have hit 20+ if he wasn’t limited to 71 games played.
  • Svechnikov’s been a fantastic rookie who’s flourished as he’s gained Rod Brind’Amour’s favor as the season went along. Svechnikov generated 20 goals and 37 points during the regular season, and had two goals and one assist for three points in his first three playoff games.

Those are three players who bring different abilities to the table, from grinding to having the sort of sniping skills that can break a tight postseason skirmish open – and the Hurricanes have to hope that most, if not all, of them can return to the lineup as they hope to push this Round 1 match longer.

The Hurricanes ended up winning Game 4 by a score of 2-1, tying the Round 1 series 2-2. Read more about that game here.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.