DETROIT (AP) — Dylan Larkin has suddenly become a veteran at the age of 22 for the Detroit Red Wings.
”It could be the first time I’m not the youngest guy on the team,” Larkin said. ”That’s why I’m growing out this beard.”
The rebuilding Red Wings are desperately hoping the talented, two-way center can quickly become a leader on and off the ice. They suffered a setback before the season even started when captain Henrik Zetterberg‘s back injury ended his career.
”It’s a massive loss,” general manager Ken Holland acknowledged. ”No one person is going to be able to replace one of the greatest Red Wings of all time.”
Larkin is likely the one player who can come closest to filling the void this season. He signed a $30.5 million, five-year deal last summer after leading the team with career highs in assists (47) and points (63) in his third season.
Detroit did not make the playoffs last year for the second straight year after earning a spot in the postseason 25 straight times. A lot will have to go right for the Red Wings to avoid missing out on the playoffs again, a three-year drought that would be their longest since 1979-83.
Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman led the franchise’s resurgence after being named captain in 1986 at the age of 21 until his retirement in 2006. Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom then wore the ‘C’ for the next several seasons before ending his career and starting Zetterberg’s run as captain.
”(Larkin) has a drive like those guys no doubt about it,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said as he prepared for his 15th season with the Red Wings. ”He stays on the ice late. Sometimes he’s on the ice before skates. And sometimes, he skates with Little Caesars (youth) teams because he just loves being on the ice.”
While Larkin seems like a likely candidate to become the next captain, he may have to wait.
”My guess is we would be we’d go with three alternates this year,” Kronwall said. ”Then over the next year or two, things will naturally have their way and the next guy will be the Red Wings’ captain for a long time. Larkin is a natural leader and hopefully he’ll take more steps to grow even more into that role and I would not be surprised if that happened down the road.”
Detroit is retooling around a trio of promising, young forwards: Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou. All three signed multiyear contract last summer. Filip Zadina may not make an impact in the NHL right away, but teammates say the Czech winger taken No. 6 overall this year won’t take long.
”You can tell how he handles the puck and skates that he’s going to be something special,” Kronwall said.
THE D IN THE D
Defense appears to be the weakest part of the team. The back end is led by the 37-year-old Kronwall and Trevor Daley. Mike Green is expected to miss the season-opening game and it out indefinitely with a virus. Green signed a two-year contract worth $10-plus million after he had a season-ending surgery on his spine last spring.
Detroit appears to have a solid tandem in goal: Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier. Howard, who made his Red Wings debut nearly 13 years ago, was 22-27-9 last season with a 2.85 goals-against average. He may not have to play 60 games again because Bernier has 10 years of experience and played in at least 37 games the previous three years for three teams: Colorado, Anaheim and Toronto.
”We think we have a solid 1-2 punch in net,” Holland said. ”That should help us stay in games and be competitive.”
Coach Jeff Blashill enters the final year of his contract with a 104-105-37 record over three years.
”The team played hard for him and we lost 27 games by a goal,” Holland said. ”There’s no doubt he’s a better coach than he was a year or two ago because of the experience.”
Yzerman stepped down as Tampa Bay Lightning general manager earlier this month to become a senior advise and speculation swirled that the move paved the way for the former Detroit star known as ”The Captain,” to return to run the Red Wings. Holland has two years left on his contract.
In 2017-18, the Atlantic Division was the only one of the four divisions that had three teams pick up at least 105 points during the regular season. The Lightning (113), Bruins (112) and Maple Leafs (105) each managed to have pretty strong seasons. Unfortunately for the rest of the teams in the Atlantic, those three organizations were the only three that made the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Panthers, who finished fourth in the division, missed out on the postseason by just one point. But in the end, five of the eight playoff teams in the East came from the Metropolitan Division.
What will the division look like this year? Let’s take a look:
Strengths: There’s no denying that the Bruins have one of the best first lines in the NHL. Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak were unstoppable at different times last season, and there’s no reason to believe anyone will be able to slow them down this year. Yes, Bergeron is banged up right now, but the Bruins managed to overcome a stretch of games where he was injured last year, too. He managed to finish the year with 63 points in 64 games, while Marchand had 85 points in 65 games and Pastrnak accumulated 80 points over 82 contests.
Weaknesses: The Bruins have a great first line, but do they have enough scoring to match teams like Tampa Bay or Toronto? David Krejci has a hard time staying healthy and David Backes isn’t the same player he once was. They have some good youngsters on the roster, but it’ll be interesting to see if they can pick up the offensive slack enough to carry the Bruins to a division crown.
2017-18 Highlight: The team scored plenty of nice goals, but there’s no highlight that stands out more from 2017-18 than the one of Marchand licking opposing players. It’s gross, but it’s all anybody talked about when it happened.
MVP Candidate: It has to be Marchand. He led the team in scoring last year, and even though he’s the guy other team’s love to hate, there’s no denying that he’s an effective hockey player. Sure, he crosses the line a lot, but when he focuses on playing hockey, there aren’t too many in the league that are better. He’ll have to continue taking his game to another level if the Bruins are going to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Playoffs or Lottery: Definitely playoffs. Assuming they stay healthy, this team will compete for the division and conference crowns. They should stack up pretty well with the Maple Leafs and Lightning.
Better or Worse: The Sabres may have been one of the worst teams in the league last year, but they should be better. The simple fact that they were able to add Rasmus Dahlin because they won the NHL Draft Lottery last year makes them an improved squad. Even though they traded away Ryan O'Reilly to St. Louis, they still managed to add a veteran scorer like Jeff Skinner at a very reasonable price. The Sabres may not make the leap into the playoff picture this year, but they’re definitely better.
Strengths: Buffalo has one of the best young centers in the game in Jack Eichel. Even though they’ve yet to make the playoffs since he came into the league, every team in the league would kill to have a player like Eichel to build around. GM Jason Botterill still needs to work on getting his star forward some more help, but finding franchise centers is a lot harder than getting a good supporting cast. So the toughest part of the job is done.
Weaknesses: They’ll have their share of issues on defense, but the addition of Dahlin improves the unit right away. Rasmus Ristolainen is another important piece on the back end and Marco Scandella is a useful player, but the rest of the group needs some work. Also, they still don’t have a proven number one goalie on their roster. Carter Hutton is a veteran, but he’s never been asked to shoulder a starter’s workload. Linus Ullmark is an unproven commodity at the NHL level. Keeping the puck out of the net will be an issue this season.
2017-18 Highlight: A “Jack-Trick” isn’t really a creative name, but it’s still something that happened last season. The fact that he managed to score two goals in under 10 seconds is also pretty impressive.
MVP Candidate: As you’ve probably been able to figure out at this point, Eichel will be the one to carry this team if they’re going to make it to the postseason for the first time in years. His point total has increased from 56 to 57 (61 games) to 64 (in 67 games), so it’s only normal to expect his offensive numbers to increase assuming he can stay healthy.
Playoffs or Lottery: Lottery. The Sabres are on the way up with players like Eichel and Dahlin at their disposal, but making the playoffs is a bit too big of an ask from this group right now. Expect them to be improved through.
DETROIT RED WINGS:
Better or Worse: The Wings brought back Thomas Vanek and they re-signed Mike Green, but the fact that they lost Henrik Zetterberg to a back injury definitely makes them worse. After years of being a model franchise, Detroit is going through a rebuild right now. They have some solid youth to build around, but they’ll suffer through a few more lean years before becoming competitive again.
Weaknesses: The Red Wings have one of the worst bluelines in the NHL. Four of their top six defensemen are over 32 years old (Mike Green, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathon Ericsson and Trevor Daley). That group just isn’t good enough to make the Wings competitive. This roster needs a ton of work, especially on the back end.
2017-18 Highlight: There weren’t many memorable moments for the Red Wings during the 2017-18 season, but the opening of Little Caesars Arena was special.
MVP Candidate: Larkin will have to be great if the Red Wings are going to compete for a playoff spot. The 22-year-old posted a career-high 63 points in 82 contests last season. Those are impressive numbers, but he’ll have to be even better if Detroit has any chance of playing deeper into April.
Playoffs or Lottery: Lottery, again. The Red Wings just aren’t deep enough at any position to be pencilled into a playoff spot at this point. They don’t have enough scoring, they probably won’t be good enough on defense and there’s only so much Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier can do between the pipes.
Better or Worse: GM Dale Tallon did a good job of making his team better after they missed the playoffs by one point last year. They went out and acquired Mike Hoffman from San Jose (via Ottawa), which gives them another proven top-six forward. Some of their young players have gained experience and that should also make them a better team, overall.
Weaknesses: Their goaltending isn’t a weakness, but it can become one if Roberto Luongo fails to stay healthy, again, this season. The 39-year-old was solid when he played last year, but he only managed to suit up in 35 games. If he can play the majority of the games, he’ll be fine. If he can’t, the Panthers will have to turn to James Reimer, which is less than ideal.
2017-18 Highlight: Luongo delivered this incredibly emotional speech after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
MVP Candidate: Barkov has emerged as one of the premiere two-way forwards in the game. The 23-year-old posted a career-high 78 points in 79 games last season. There’s no reason to think that he can’t get even better this season. The Panthers’ new captain will have more pressure on his shoulders, but he can handle it.
Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs. They missed the postseason by a point last year, so they’ll use that to fuel their season this year. They have a solid blue line and some skilled forwards. If the goaltending cooperates, they’ll be just fine.
Better or Worse: Things seem to be a little more positive around Canadiens camp right now compared to last year. But it’s hard to suggest this team is better though, especially because they won’t have Shea Weber until Christmas and because they traded away their top two goal scorers in Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk.
Strengths:Carey Price is still considered to be one of the best goaltenders in the league. Even though he struggled mightily last year, he still has the ability to bounce back in a big way. If Price plays up to his potential, the Canadiens might surprise the hockey world this season.
Weaknesses: GM Marc Bergervin still hasn’t addressed the defense. Losing Weber for months hurts, but they’re still lacking good puck-movers. Jeff Petry will serve as their number one defenseman until Weber comes back, but his defense partners this preseason have included Karl Alzner and Jordie Benn. Yikes.
2017-18 Highlight: This Price save against Tampa is just too pretty not to watch over and over again. Ridiculous.
MVP Candidate: There’s no doubt who the MVP is in Montreal. It’s Price. If he dominates between the pipes the Canadiens will have a chance. If he doesn’t, they’re toast. It’s as simple as that.
Playoffs or Lottery: Lottery. They’re too thin on the defense, too thin down the middle and there’s too much pressure on the goalie. It feels like the Canadiens are heading in the right direction, but they aren’t ready to make the playoffs this year.
Better or Worse: You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to argue that the Senators are a better team this year than they were last year. Trading away Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman will do that. Chris Tierney and Mikkel Boedker won’t be able to fill the voids left by the players that they were traded for.
Strengths: Even though they traded some of their best players away, they still have Mark Stone and Matt Duchene on the roster for now (they’re both free agents at the end of the season). Those two will have to drive the offense for the Senators this season. Will they finish 2018-19 in Ottawa? That’s a different question.
Weaknesses:Thomas Chabot has a bright future ahead of him, but there’s no number one defenseman on this roster now that Karlsson’s gone. They aren’t very deep up front. And if Craig Anderson struggles like he did last year, it’s going to be a very long year in Ottawa.
2017-18 Highlight: As bad as things were last season, at least the Senators took care of the Canadiens in that outdoor game in December.
MVP Candidate: Stone put up an impressive 62 points in 58 games last year, but he’s going to have to be a whole lot better in 2018-19 if the Senators are going to surprise. Of course, the better he plays, the more Eugene Melnyk will have to pay him next summer. So, is this a lose-lose for the Sens?
Playoffs or Lottery: Lottery. There’s so much drama around the Senators right now that it’s hard to imagine them going on any kind of run this year. Management has already come out publicly and said this is a rebuild (even though they have no first-rounder).
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING:
Better or Worse: The Lightning didn’t make a major splash over the summer, but they’ll benefit from having J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh for a whole season (they acquired both players at the trade deadline). The Bolts didn’t have to make a major move to be considered one of the elite teams in the division. They’re better.
Weaknesses: Ummmmm this team doesn’t appear to have any weaknesses on paper. They’ve got scoring, they’ve got quality defenders and they have one of the best goalies in the league in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
2017-18 Highlight: There’s no way Anze Kopitar didn’t have nightmares about this Vasilevskiy save.
MVP Candidate: There’s so many options, but Kucherov has to be the guy here. In the first half of last season, he was probably the favorite to win the Hart Trophy but players like Taylor Hall and Nathan MacKinnon eventually emerged as options. The Russian winger cracked the 100-point mark for the first time in his career. Don’t be surprised if he does it again.
Playoffs or Lottery: Too easy. This is a playoff team. They’re good enough to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Final, but there’s going to be a ton of competition in this division.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS:
Better or Worse: Any team that’s able to add John Tavares in free agency is automatically better (no kidding).
Strengths: There aren’t many teams that could go head-to-head with the Leafs down the middle. Auston Matthews and Tavares are one of the top two center duos in the league along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh.
Weaknesses: Their defense is still a question mark. Sure, they have Morgan Reilly, who is a quality defender, but they’re still lacking another top pairing guy. Maybe this is the year they’ll sacrifice some of their forward depth to make sure they go out and address that need.
2017-18 Highlight: This one was pretty funny. Matthews had a goal called back after video review, so the next time he put the puck in the net, he made sure to signal that it was a good goal.
MVP Candidate: There’s options here, but Matthews still has to be the go-to guy in this category. The 21-year-old scored 40 goals in his rookie year and 34 goals in 62 games last year, so it’s scary to think what he’ll be able to do if he stays healthy in 2018-19. He’ll need to be great if he wants to claim the division and conference crowns.
Playoffs or Lottery: Whether or not they make the playoffs isn’t the question. What everyone wants to know is: Will they make it out of the first round of the playoffs? No matter how good they are during the regular season, another first-round exit would be a huge disappointment in Leaf Land.
Early word of Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mike Green dealing with fatigue issues in the preseason seemed unusual, but it turns out there’s a rather frightening reason why he might be dealing with energy issues.
“(Green’s) not available right now,” Blashill said, via Wakiji. “He’s got a virus that attacked his liver, so he’s seen an infectious disease person today and we should know more here in the next little bit. I don’t know how long he’s going to be out. I don’t know the totality of it.”
Green is no stranger to injury issues, including ailments that plagued him during his offensively dominant days with the Washington Capitals. Not long ago, Green spoke in positive terms about how he was feeling coming off of neck surgery.
This is unsettling news for a defenseman who’s already dealt with tough injury luck during his career. Here’s hoping that Green and the Red Wings take every precaution before he returns to the ice.
One silver lining is that, with Green sidelined, the Red Wings can open the door for some defensive prospects to get a longer look than they might have received under different circumstances. In particular, Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek stand out as blueliners who could really benefit from some additional opportunities, while Libor Sulak and Joe Hicketts should also be in the mix.
“Now we have five D, and we are probably going to start with seven,” Holland said. “Now, how long is Mike Green out? Certainly it appears he is going to be out for a little period of time. So probably we are going to start with two of these defense prospects – either Sulak or Hicketts or Cholowski or Hronek.”
One might argue that the Red Wings should already be taking measures to skew in a younger direction on defense, anyway. Getting more intel on Sulak, Hicketts, Cholowski, and Hronek would give them a better idea regarding how soon they might be able to contribute, or if they even figure into future plans.
Consider the ages of the Red Wings more settled defensemen. Green is 32, Jonathan Ericsson is pretty broken down at 34, Trevor Daley is 34, and Niklas Kronwall‘s nearing the end of his career at 37. It’s plausible that Nick Jensen and Danny DeKeyser (both 28) will be in a decline and/or out of the picture by the time the Red Wings wade out of the darkness, too.
The Red Wings have made some significant progress toward a rebuild – the Tomas Tatar trade was wonderful, and they followed it up with shrewd picks at the 2018 NHL Draft – yet there still seem to be moments where they’re too stubborn to fully embrace the growing pains. Bringing Green back felt a little bit like that, as there’s a strong chance that a healthy Green would provide better immediate returns than a Cholowski or Hronek. But, realistically speaking, would the upside be that strong?
Either way, here’s hoping there will be happier news for Green soon.
Perhaps it’s fitting that the Pittsburgh Penguins put a bow on big defense spending by re-signing Jamie Oleksiak, one of the largest humans you’ll see roaming a blueline.
The team announced that they signed the 25-year-old to a three-year contract that will carry a $2,137,500 cap hit. He’s generally listed at 6-foot-7, which is just a couple inches shorter than Zdeno Chara.
(It only seems fair that he was frequently called upon to drop the mitts once he arrived from Dallas then, right?)
In a vacuum, it’s an inoffensive contract, although some will grimace a bit at giving three years to a potential depth defenseman. Your overall opinion of the big blueliner will vary depending upon how you value what he brings to the table. His size is valued by many, and he didn’t take on too much water from a possession standpoint.
There’s little denying that he enjoyed something of a career rejuvenation in Pittsburgh, echoing Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz, even though his gritty style makes him quite different from those fleet-footed defensemen. After averaging just 15 minutes per game with the Stars, Oleksiak’s ice time shot up to an average of 17:24 in 41 contests with Pittsburgh.
That ice time plummeted during the postseason, as he only logged an average of 13:43 per contest.
We’ve seen teams get burned by handing an extension to a defenseman who thrived during a brief audition, such as Brendan Smith‘s disastrous turn with the Rangers, although the Penguins didn’t shell out as large of a cap hit here.
The larger concern might be that the Penguins could be guilty of a mistake a lot of contenders fall victim of: locking up a lot of depth players when it might be wiser to allow more room to scour the market for cheaper options in the bottom of the order. On the other hand, maybe Oleksiak will end up being another successful reclamation project in Pittsburgh?
Either way, the Penguins are locked in with quite a few defensemen, so substantial commitments abound.
Signed-through dates for Penguins defensemen: Letang 2021-22 Dumoulin 2022-23 Schultz 2019-20 Maatta 2021-22 Oleksiak 2020-21 Johnson 2022-23 Ruhwedel 2018-19
For some, that’s the price of doing business for a team not far removed from back-to-back Stanley Cup victories.
Others will blanche at the thought that, at times, the Penguins overcome this group, rather than being propped up by it. Those critics surely won’t be over the moon about some of their recent commitments, especially oft-criticized Jack Johnson carrying a $3.25M cap hit mere months after the Blue Jackets couldn’t give him away during the trade deadline.
There are some red flags going on with that unit, and maybe the Oleksiak signing will be looked upon as a mistake.
Ultimately, it’s not the sort of decision that will derail the Penguins’ hopes for contending now and in the future. The worry, though, is that the mistakes might start to really pile up for the Pens. After all, flexibility can be crucial in the modern NHL, and GM Jim Rutherford risks painting himself into a corner.
When it comes to putting together their team, the Detroit Red Wings seemingly still believe they can eat their cake and have it too.
It’s fantastic if you can accrue futures and ice a competitive team, but GM Ken Holland’s plan hasn’t exactly worked like gangbusters lately. The Red Wings have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for two straight seasons, and before that, they were dispatched in the first round three seasons in a row.
PHT readers have generally disagreed with this one foot in, one foot out style of management.
In August 2017, 70.36 percent of PHT readers voted in favor of a long rebuild for Detroit. Then, in late March 2018, about 73.36 percent of PHT readers believed that Ken Holland wasn’t the right choice to lead a rebuild.
So … yeah, that’s a pretty strong majority of people who questioned the Red Wings’ direction.
Still, there had been promising signs lately. Holland showed some serious aptitude in a key rebuild area by landing a bounty of draft picks for Tomas Tatar. Between deals for Tatar and Petr Mrazek, Holland loaded up on five draft picks.
So, the signals are all there, right: the Red Wings are finally turning the page?
Eh, maybe not completely. MLive.com’s Ansar Khan provided a detailed free agent update for Detroit on Thursday, and if most of those situations come to fruition, there’d be some mixed signals. In particular, the belief that the Red Wings might not just give contracts but term to aging veterans is more than a little troubling.
Via Khan, here are some possibilities:
The Red Wings seem close to bringing Mike Green back with a two-year deal.
Now, that’s not the end of the world. Green continues to provide offense from the blueline (exactly a point every other game in 2017-18 with 33 in 66 contests), and the Red Wings aren’t exactly teeming with quality defensemen. At 32, Green isn’t ancient, and he wouldn’t rank as a scary 35+ contract.
Green probably qualifies as “an old 32,” though. Injuries have frequently been an issue for the scoring defenseman, and his neck issues are a significant concern. The 2018-19 season will already mark his 14th NHL season.
It’s not as though Green would be the only “seasoned veteran” on defense. Niklas Kronwall is 37 and hurting. Both Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley are 34, and each are signed through 2019-20. As of this writing, Danny DeKeyser is the baby of the non-prospects group at 28, and Detroit probably wishes he wasn’t signed at $5M clip through 2021-22.
Detroit appears to be one of the frontrunners for goalie Jonathan Bernier, who is no spring chicken himself at 30.
Again, term is where you furrow your brow a bit. Khan reports that the Red Wings might offer Bernier a three-year contract.
That’s quite a bit of term for an aging backup. Now, there’s the possibility that the plan could be to transition the starting job from Jimmy Howard to Bernier, as Howard is entering a contract year. Maybe the Red Wings envision a platoon situation both now and in the future.
Look, Bernier is one of the better goalie options in a shallow market for netminders … but what’s the upside here, really?
Finally, Khan reports that the Red Wings might make the nostalgic decision to sign Valtteri Filppula.
For one year, you could make that argument, but Khan reports that a potential deal would be for two seasons instead. For a marginal forward who is already 34 years old.
(Yes, Filppula really is 34 already. Life moves fast, gang.)
It’s possible that none of these situations work out. For one thing, Khan reports that Green is hoping for someone to offer up three years.
Loading up on middling veterans would be fine if the gameplan was to give a bunch of players one-year deals as stopgaps while prospects marinate in junior, the NCAA, and the AHL. There’s no denying that the Red Wings like to bring their blue chippers along gradually.
Possibly handing out two or three years of term inspires some discouraging thoughts, however.
Will these veterans serve as an excessive barrier to up-and-comers gaining valuable NHL experience? The Red Wings run the risk of locking themselves into purgatory with moves like these: being too competitive to land more high first-rounders, yet not good enough to contend.
Now, the painful truth is that someone must fall in that range in any given season. The Red Wings are just increasing their odds of being stuck in limbo.
At least there’s still time for them to change their minds, or for those free agents to do it for them by signing elsewhere.