Tyler Bertuzzi

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Q&A: Dylan Larkin on captaincy, getting Red Wings back to playoffs

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The retirement of Niklas Kronwall saw another veteran leave the Detroit Red Wings dressing room. One year ago it was Henrik Zetterberg, and while the graybeards (30 years and older) still are in the double digits on the roster, there’s a young core that’s ready to lead the way, highlighted by 23-year-old Dylan Larkin.

Larkin, who has 213 points in four seasons, took away plenty being around Kronwall and Zetterberg, who retired with a combined 2,035 games of NHL experience and a Stanley Cup each to their names.

“They brought it every day,” Larkin told NBC Sports during the NHL Player Media Tour last week in Chicago. “They were professionals every day, that’s probably the biggest thing. They competed. They showed up and work and did all the right things every day.”

Larkin is part of the next group of Red Wings that is hoping to start another long playoff streak. Now that Steve Yzerman is back in Hockeytown replacing Ken Holland as general manager, there’s an expectation in Detroit that good times are on their way back.

We spoke with Larkin about the Red Wings’ encouraging finish to last season, getting back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team’s vacant captaincy and more. 

Enjoy.

Q. What was it about the 8-3 finish that gives you encouragement heading into this season?

LARKIN: “When we finished the season the young players that were producing at the level that they were, obviously, it’s a small sample size and some people will call them meaningless games, but when you have the guys that we have that could be the young core of our team playing like that, it’s just excitement for myself, for our fanbase, for our staff, for us in the locker room. I’m excited to see how we start and as we get into camp how guys are looking. It seems like everyone’s ready, everyone’s excited, everyone’s refreshed after the summer. We’re just going to carry on from where we left off last season.”

Q. From a production standpoint you’ve been the best Red Wing the last few seasons. When you know you have that responsibility every night, how do you manage that pressure?

LARKIN: “I don’t think anyone puts more pressure on me than myself. I enjoy that. I enjoy being in high-pressure situations. I like playing hockey, that’s what it really comes down to. I love the game, I love being at the rink, I love working on my craft. For me, it’s really easy to be at the rink and spend hours trying to get better and I enjoy the pressure and day-to-day grind of playing in the NHL.”

Q. When you see the numbers you put up last season(32-41–73), do you have a specific goal in mind for 2019-20?

LARKIN: “I don’t. I always try to shoot for 30 goals. Last year was pretty special to be able to accomplish that. I don’t set a number, I just try and play hard every night. As I’ve gotten older I’ve tried to take more pride in playing a two-way game. Sometimes when you play that game it doesn’t lead to the big offensive production nights and you have to grind it out. That’s good and I think it helps our team more.”

Q. What areas of your game are you still trying to improve?

LARKIN: “I think I try and improve on every area of my game. If you don’t in the NHL it will slowly catch up to you and it will pass you by. It’s constantly thinking of different ways to play the game and to get better. Everyone has different trainers and different things that they do. I believe in what I’m doing and what I’ve done this offseason to make myself a better hockey player.”

[MORE: Rebuilding Red Wings counting on Larkin, Mantha, Bertuzzi]

Q. What’s it going to take to get the Red Wings back to the playoffs?

LARKIN: “Our young core taking the next step and taking over the team, I guess. We have the guys to do it, we all believe in each other, and as we all want to produce and build our careers, it’s going to help our team. There’s four guys: myself, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, Andreas Athanasiou, if we can take that next step, become dominant players every night, it’s going to really help our team. I think it’s going to fast-track us to where we want to be.”

Q. How excited are you to be working with Steve Yzerman now that he’s general manager?

LARKIN: “The fan base is excited, the people in Detroit are excited to have him back. To look at what he did in Tampa Bay with the team they had, obviously there’s no guarantees, but he’s been through it, he’s had success at the position he’s at. We all have trust and faith in him. We understand that we have to produce on the ice right now and maybe there’s a little more pressure with having him back. I think it’s good for our team to push guys. For myself, I hope that we build a relationship where we can have conversations and relate to what’s going on in my life and he can help guide me through some things that occur to a young guy playing in the NHL.”

Q. Are you ready to assume a bigger leadership role on the team if Jeff [Blashill] and Steve come to you?

LARKIN: “Yes, but ultimately it’s their decision. Wearing a letter, mentally, I’ve already taken on a bigger role as a leader on the team [as an alternate captain]. I think guys look up to me and I look up to other guys in the locker room, so we have a great core of guys that are leaders and we all rely on each other. It makes it easy for myself when everyone’s doing the right thing and everyone’s leading by example.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

Red Wings’ rebuild includes vital fountain of youth

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Detroit Red Wings.

Any rebuild worth its salt begins with a solid prospect pool and that youthful exuberance that comes with it.

And if there’s one x-factor for the Detroit Red Wings this coming season, it’s just that: their youth — and it’s aplenty.

Throw out any expectations that Steve Yzerman’s arrival will mean an instant playoff contender. That simply shouldn’t be a mindset that anyone subscribes to.

This season is about one thing, and one thing only: development and taking the next step in a rebuild that will hopefully bring the once-mighty Red Wings back to life.

The good news here is they have assembled many of those pieces. Sure, they haven’t been lucky enough to get a Jack Hughes or a Kaapo Kakko in the draft, but never the less they’ve accumulated several picks have chosen wisely.

[MORE: 2018-19 season review | Blashill under pressure? | Three questions]

Filip Zadina stands out up front while Filip Hronek does the same on the blue line.

And there are several other names to be excited about, from Joseph Veleno to Taro Hirose to Dennis Cholowski and Moritz Seider. Add Michael Rasmussen and Evgeny Svechnikov to that list as well.

Filip Larsson, who dominated in the USHL two seasons ago and made waves in the NCAA last season in Denver will now try and take the next step in the American Hockey League this season. Watching the whole of the Red Wings organization should be interesting this season, including their farm team.

And all of this complements a young roster well.

Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi are all under 25 and all coming off career years and should only continue to grow.

There’s also a chance that the Red Wings can make a bigger splash in free agency next summer as some of their aging veterans come off the books (although the team will need to ready contracts for the trio of Mantha, Athanasiou and Bertuzzi.)

Detroit’s season may not play out nicely in the standings, but they could very well be an exciting team to watch as a bunch of young guns try and make their mark.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s Detroit Red Wings Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Detroit Red Wings.

2018-19
32-40-10, 74 points (7th in the Atlantic Division, 14th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN
Valtteri Filppula
Patrik Nemeth
Calvin Pickard
Steve Yzerman – general manager

OUT
Thomas Vanek
Martin Frk
Luke Witkowski
Wade Megan
Ken Holland – general manager

RE-SIGNED 
Joe Hicketts
Dominic Turgeon

[MORE: Three questions | Blashill under pressure? | X-factor]

2018-19 Season Review

The Detroit Red Wings did what we all expected them to do this past season.

They were never going to compete for a playoff spot, at least not without some divine intervention. A team in the midst of a rebuild, the Red Wings lived up to the low expectations set out for them. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Rebuilds aren’t about the win-loss record or the position in the standings. Instead, they focus on the bigger picture — long-term success with bouts of short-term growth to get them there.

And if we use that metric, and strip away the record and the fact that they’ve missed the playoffs now three years on the trot after making it 25 straight times before that, we can certainly find some positives.

Most importantly, the young core that will one day lead this team took another in terms of production.

Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi all took steps in terms of production, with all four setting career highs in goals and at least tying career highs in points. All four of those guys are also 25 or under, so there’s plenty more of where that came from to come and where the optimism in Detroit lies.

And the next harvest from the farm could come as early as this season in the form of Filip Zadina and Taro Hirose, two more forwards with point-producing prowess. Michael Rasmussen should also compete for a spot.

The Red Wings relied on an older backend this past season after re-signing Mike Green last summer and rolling with Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley and Danny DeKeyser, three of which are 33 or older.

A mid-season trade saw Madison Bowey enter the fold and Nick Jensen departing to the Washington Capitals.

Defenseman Filip Hronek, 21, should get a full-time gig with the Red Wings this season after finishing fourth in rookie defensemen scoring last season in just 46 games.

Of course, the biggest move made over the summer was the installation of Steve Yzerman as the team’s new general manager. Ken Holland, who had been the team’s GM since 1997, is now in Edmonton and it’s up to Yzerman to turn the rebuild into a perennial contender, much like the one he created in Tampa Bay.

This team isn’t expected to move the needle much further this coming season, which should get a pass, especially as Yzerman gets the lay of the land in the town spent his whole 22-year playing career in.

Their offseason moves have been few and mostly underwhelming with the return of Valtteri Filppula, and the addition of Patrik Nemeth on the blue line.

There’s still no word, either, on whether 38-year-old Niklas Kronwall will return for another season.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Ken Holland handed keys to Oilers rebuild

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From Ken Holland’s perspective, you could see why he’d up and leave from Detroit to take on the roles of president of hockey operations and general manager with the Edmonton Oilers. 

The 63-year-old, who recently switched from his decades-long role as Detroit Red Wings GM to a senior vice president position with the franchise after Steve Yzerman returned, is taking a reported five-year, $25 million dollar deal to try and turn around the Oilers with Connor McDavid as the centerpiece. Enticing for any one, clearly, especially when given, per the official release, “full autonomy.”

But if you’re Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson and your goal is to make a rebuild into a quick transition back into a playoff team, is Holland the right choice? He has four Stanley Cups on his resume while running the Red Wings, sure. But once the franchise’s golden generation reached their golden years in the NHL, that success came to an end, and there were no younger reinforcements coming through the Red Wings’ system to sustain those years of winning, at least not immediately.

One of the things Holland was known for during his time in Detroit was allowing prospects to develop properly in the AHL, even if some thought those players were well-beyond ready for the NHL. 

Three of the Red Wings’ top five scorers this past season probably could have been up earlier in the NHL considering the franchise was and remains in a transition phase after the end of their 25-season playoff streak. Andreas Athanasiou spent parts of three seasons in the AHL before becoming a full-time NHLer. Anthony Mantha needed extra time to find the scoring touch that served him well in junior and has posted back-to-back 20-goal seasons. Tyler Bertuzzi broke out this past season with 21 goals after finding his way through 137 games in Grand Rapids. 

Jesse Puljujarvi had a roller coaster of a 2018-19 season. Kailer Yamamoto got in 17 games with the Oilers. Caleb Jones and Cooper Marody have accumulated good experience with the Bakersfield Condors. Evan Bouchard is coming soon. Those are the prospects the Oilers need to get right if they’re going to have any impact at the NHL level. Letting them overripe in the AHL would serve them well as opposed to yo-yo’ing them between levels, messing with their development.

But while prospect development could be looked at as a positive, some of the contracts Holland has handed out has ended up handcuffing him while attempting to maintain their status as a playoff team. Justin Abdelkader, Frans Nielsen, Darren Helm, Trevor Daley, and Jonathan Ericcson are some of the term-heavy, cap-eating deals that have helped put the Red Wings in the position they currently reside.

That track record can be improved if Holland surrounds himself with smart people. Pat Verbeek, who was a pro scout with the Red Wings under Holland, is leaving his role as assistant GM in Tampa to return to Detroit in the same position under Yzerman. But will the same be said for Tyler Wright, who currently works as the Red Wings’ director of amateur scouting?

The staff will need to be a strong and creative one considering the Oilers’ current position under the salary cap and some of the roadblocks that remain in place as they try to build a team around McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Then you have the question of the head coach now that Ken Hitchcock will not be back and possibly moving into an advisor role. Dave Tippett seems itching to return behind a bench and doesn’t want to wait for Seattle’s NHL entry. Dan Bylsma was an assistant in Detroit this past season. Jay Woodcroft has done a great job in his first season with the Oilers’ AHL affiliate in Bakersfield.

There will be plenty of options available to replace Hitchcock.

Nicholson and Oilers owner Daryl Katz feel Holland is ready for a successful second act as an NHL GM. They are, of course, also desperate to ensure time isn’t wasted while McDavid is still posting 100-point seasons. There’s plenty of work ahead for Holland to make that a reality, and this move cannot fail and set the franchise back any longer.

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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.

Red Wings rebuild won’t be easy, but Yzerman is right GM choice

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Detroit Red Wings fans are right to rejoice. While the move’s been telegraphed for a while, this is indeed a good Friday for the Red Wings, as Steve Yzerman was officially named as their next GM.

Whether it was convincing Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman to sign team-friendly deals, or identifying the league’s general prejudice against smaller players to unearth draft day bargains, Yzerman* did such a great job with the Tampa Bay Lightning, that I’ve called him a magician and/or wizard on multiple occasions.

Even if you’re a vociferous defender of Ken Holland’s latter, sometimes-rebuild-resistant years, chances are, you’re probably very excited about Yzerman’s hiring. The team announced official titles for both Yzerman and Holland, if you like your updates especially granular.

So, to me and plenty others – not just Red Wings fans – this is a shrewd hire.

Still, if there’s one talking point that stands out as especially valid, it’s this: when Yzerman took over the Lightning, he already had an elite center in Steven Stamkos, and a future Norris-winning defenseman in Victor Hedman.

All due respect to Dylan Larkin (who had a strong season, and is only 22) and some other nice players, but the Red Wings don’t have foundational players at quite that superstar level. They do, however, have a pretty interesting setup. If Yzerman is as bright as he seemed to be in Tampa Bay, the Red Wings could really turn things around. All they need is some luck and patience.

Let’s get an idea of the path ahead for Yzerman.

On a Larkin

Look, there’s no shame in Larkin not being quite what Stamkos was in 2010, when Stevie Y took over in Tampa Bay. It’s easy to forget just how potent Stamkos was (the NHL’s most goals [156] and second-most points [283] from 2009-10 to 2010-11), possibly because a few catastrophic injuries briefly derailed his career.

Larkin is fantastic, and stands as the sort of contract you’d build around: a 22-year-old star with a bargain $6.1 million cap hit running through 2022-23.

Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi showed great chemistry with Larkin late in the season, with Mantha in particular boasting the sort of pedigree that points to continued success. One of Yzerman’s early challenges will be to strike affordable deals with Mantha, Bertuzzi, and Andreas Athanasiou, three useful forwards whose contracts expire after 2019-20. Would the best deals come in earlier extensions, or would the Red Wings be wiser to wait? It’s up to Yzerman & Co. to decide, and getting good deals could be key if they want to build a winning core.

Early fruits of rebuild

While I’d argue that Holland dragged his feet multiple times when it came to the rebuilding process, the good news is that when Holland did act, he landed some nice building blocks. In trading away Gustav Nyquist, Nick Jensen, and especially Tomas Tatar, the Red Wings have really loaded up on draft picks, most of which land in the top three rounds.

The development processes are already underway for a few interesting prospects, particularly 2018 first-rounders Filip Zadina (sixth overall) and Joe Veleno (30th). The Red Wings once again pick sixth overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, so it’s up to Yzerman to land another blue-chipper, even if Detroit doesn’t get the luxury of a more obvious choice like Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko.

Almost as important is that the Red Wings have loaded up on picks like they’re at Prospect Costco:

  • Last year, they had those two first-rounders, plus: two second-rounders, and three third-rounders to go with their normal set of choices (minus a fifth-rounder).
  • Via Cap Friendly’s handy chart, the Red Wings have two extra second-round picks and one additional fifth-rounder in 2019.
  • In 2020, they have an extra second and third-round pick. (The third-rounder could turn into a second-rounder depending upon the San Jose Sharks’ actions.)
  • They already have an extra third-rounder in 2021.

That’s a fantastic start, eh? Even the best drafting teams would admit that there’s a lot of “dart throwing” involved in drafting, so it makes sense to load up on those darts, especially when you get the added precision of picks in earlier rounds.

The Lightning were adept at finding quality talent off-the-beaten-path under Yzerman,* most notably identifying Brayden Point as a third-rounder (79th in 2014) and Nikita Kucherov in a second round (58th in 2011). If Yzerman can carry that success over to Detroit, even partially, the Red Wings could really make some exciting leaps.

Cleanup duty

Which brings us to the messier part.

For all of Holland’s accomplishments, he left behind a shaggy salary structure. There’s dead money (Stephen Weiss’ buyout lingers through 2020-21), scary contracts (Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser), and, erm, maybe too much of a “veteran presence.”

By that I mean this team is old, at least beyond the core. Niklas Kronwall is 38 with a (mercifully) expiring contract, both Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley are 35, and Mike Green is a very banged-up 33. DeKeyser is oft-criticized and not really a spring chicken, either, at 29.

The goalie duo is also creaky. Jimmy Howard was fantastic in 2018-19, but at 35, it’s still surprising that the Red Wings didn’t trade him, even with the understanding that they’d come calling during free agency time in July. Jonathan Bernier is 30 and his $3M cap hit doesn’t expire until after the 2020-21 season.

Most of those trends are disturbing, and while the Red Wings need more talent basically everywhere, the defense and goaltending likely need the most strenuous surgery.

The good news is that a significant chunk of those contracts aren’t lingering too long after Yzerman takes the reins. Kronwall is headed to free agency (or retirement?), while Ericsson, Green, and Daley come off the books after 2019-20. Howard’s extension only lasts through 2019-20, so maybe Yzerman will get trade value out of the veteran where Holland could or would not.

In the short term, and in the case of a few lengthier deals, there’s a significant mess to clean up. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t too dim, however.

Some pain for future gains

I’ve seen at least mild arguments to try to win now, with at least a portion of The Athletic’s Craig Custance piece (sub required) mentioning certain surprise stories in the NHL. And, sure, if the goal were only to make it back to the playoffs (and maybe even win a series), then speeding up the rebuild would make sense.

My guess is that mega-winner Stevie Y wants his best chance at a Stanley Cup, not merely getting the Red Wings to the playoff bubble.

The free agent market dries up pretty quickly when you realize that Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky likely wouldn’t find much of a lure to join a rebuilding team in a cold weather city (heck, “Detroiters” even got canceled).

So, instead of chasing mid-tier free agents and settling for mid-tier expectations, Yzerman should use his clout to absorb another rebuild year or two. Doing so would raise the ceiling on this rebuild, for a few reasons:

  • Most directly and obviously, tanking for an even better pick in 2020. If you look at the teams who regularly contend, virtually all of them required high-end talent found early in drafts.
  • Rather than giving valuable playing time to long-in-the-tooth veterans, why not let younger players learn on the job? You might just get an idea of what you have in, say, Michael Rasmussen. Difference-making players are hitting the NHL earlier and earlier, so why not find out which players can actually make a difference?
  • Allow the Red Wings to be a short-term receptacle to clear cap space, with Detroit taking a bribe, whether that means quality draft picks or useful players. See: the Coyotes landing an important scorer in Vinnie Hinostroza in exchange for keeping Marian Hossa‘s contract warm. Yzerman could even call up his buddies in Tampa Bay and offer to absorb the final year of Ryan Callahan‘s contract ($5.8M cap hit). Boy, Anthony Cirelli and/or Mathieu Joseph would look nice with a winged wheel …
  • Going further, getting more cap space means that the Red Wings could position themselves to land better players in trades than they’d likely entice in free agency. Perhaps teams would ready for the expansion draft by sending good, would-be-exposed players to Detroit for something? Maybe the Hurricanes would sour on Dougie Hamilton, or something similar would happen with P.K. Subban, considering his hefty $9M price tag? Could the Red Wings echo former exec Jim Nill in being the next team to say “Why, yes, we’d love to take Tyler Seguin for 25 cents on the dollar, thank you.”

***

This isn’t an easy job, and again, some of this comes down to luck. Still, it’s easy to see why Red Wings fans are excited.

Make no mistake about it, though: Yzerman has his work cut out for him. It could be the fun sort of work that you’d get from tinkering with a car in the garage, and it should be fascinating for those of us who are dorks when it comes to studying how teams are put together.

* – And his staff, including current GM Julien BriseBois. We could have a lengthy, basically impossible-to-resolve discussion about who was most responsible for the great building in Tampa Bay, but it would be pretty fruitless. And, really, wouldn’t all smart GMs want to surround themselves with other smart people?

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.