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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.

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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.

Should Ken Holland lead rebuild for Red Wings?

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If the Detroit Red Wings are going to turn their fortunes around, it’s going to be Ken Holland remaining at the controls.

Holland, who’s been general manager of the team since 1997, will be back at the helm according to three Detroit outlets. MLive.com, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News are all citing sources saying that ownership will not make a change after this season. Head coach Jeff Blashill, who has one more year left on his deal, is also expected to be back.

The Red Wings wrap up their season on April 7, so it should become official some time before the team breaks for the summer.

Holland entered the 2017-18 season without an extension, something that was routine business in year’s past. When that didn’t happen, and the Red Wings began to struggle again, he was firmly placed on the hot seat. After two decades in the GMs chair and three Stanley Cups, it’s been a good run, but with Christopher Illitch taking the ownership lead following his father’s death, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see a new face replacing Holland.

Since 2011, the Red Wings have only one playoff series victory and have now missed the postseason two straight years after a 25-year streak of getting into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With the likes of Julien BriseBois, Kyle Dubas, Paul Fenton, Tom Fitzgerald, Mike Futa, and Laurence Gilman among the names floating out there as possible future NHL GMs, you have to wonder why ownership has faith that Holland is the one to lead them out of their current mess when he’s the one who helped direct them down that way.

Their salary cap picture is not a good one, and while the ceiling is expected to rise for 2018-19, the Red Wings have some important young pieces — Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha — who are due raises as restricted free agents this summer. But while that extra room should help with re-signings, there are still the contracts of Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson, Danny DeKeyser, Darren Helm and Henrik Zetterberg — all Holland signings — that are long and eating a lot of space.

Holland’s rebuild efforts got off to a great start last month when he flipped Tomas Tatar and Petr Mrazek for draft picks. According to Cap Friendly, the Red Wings could have up to eight selections in the opening four rounds of this June’s entry draft and five in the first three rounds of the 2019 draft. That’s great for restocking the prospect cupboard or packaging in trades for young roster players who can aid in this rebuild.

But the hard part, identifying and securing talent, comes next.

“We’re not good enough quite right now,” Holland said last month. “For me, it’s about trying to acquire pieces that I think can have an impact on this team three, four years down the road in order to build a team that’s a playoff team, that’s got a young foundation. That’s the goal. Those are the decisions that I’m making.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at Detroit Red Wings

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PROJECTED LINES

Philadelphia Flyers

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny

Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickJakub Voracek

Jordan WealValtteri FilppulaWayne Simmonds

Jori LehteraScott Laughton — Matt Read

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere

Travis Sanheim — Andrew MacDonald

Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Petr Mrazek

[Flyers – Red Wings preview]

Detroit Red Wings

Tyler BertuzziHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

Darren HelmDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha

Justin AbdelkaderFrans NielsenAndreas Athanasiou

Evgeny Svechnikov — Luke GlendeningMartin Frk

Niklas KronwallMike Green

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley

Danny DeKeyserNick Jensen

Jimmy Howard

WATCH LIVE: Red Wings at Kings

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PROJECTED LINES

Detroit Red Wings

Tyler BertuzziHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

Darren HelmDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha

Justin AbdelkaderFrans NielsenAndreas Athanasiou

Martin FrkLuke Glendening — Evgeny Svechnikov

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley

Dan DeKeyserNick Jensen

Niklas KronwallMike Green

Starting goalie: Jared Coreau

[Red Wings – Kings preview.]

Los Angeles Kings

Alex IafalloAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Tobias RiederJeff CarterTrevor Lewis

Tanner PearsonAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli

Kyle CliffordMichael AmadioNate Thompson

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty

Dion PhaneufAlec Martinez

Jake Muzzin — Paul LaDue

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

Bruins’ Backes risks suspension with hit on Trocheck, Matheson fight

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In just his second game back for the Boston Bruins after being suspended for an awkward hit on Frans Nielsen, David Backes is at risk of another brush with the Department of Player Safety.

Backes was ejected from Thursday’s Bruins game against the Florida Panthers after a hit on Vincent Trocheck, which inspired an immediate response in the form of a fight with Mike Matheson.

As with many hits, this one is inspiring disagreements about the hit. On one side, some believe that Trocheck placed himself in a vulnerable position and likely don’t expect anything further:

Either way, if the Bruins want to rally for a comeback against the Panthers, they’ll need to so without Backes.

UPDATE:

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.