Henrik Zetterberg

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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.

Back issue makes Henrik Zetterberg’s future ‘real unknown’

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There was good news and bad news for the Detroit Red Wings on Friday. 

The good news was that Dylan Larkin signed a five-year extension, locking himself in with the team until the end of the 2022-23 NHL season.

The bad news is that the status of captain Henrik Zetterberg’s health is not looking good. A month ago, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the forward was planning to play in 2018-19, but that his back would determine whether that would happen. A summer golf outing with some fellow NHLers looked like a good sign.

On a conference call with reporters on Friday, Holland delivered a discouraging update.

“I have talked to his agent a number of times over the course of the summer, and I know he’s had a tough summer,” he said. “He hasn’t been able to train anywhere near close to where he’s been able to train past summers due to his back. So there is a real unknown right now with Henrik Zetterberg.”

Zetterberg, who turns 38 in October, hasn’t missed a game in three seasons. The lingering back issue caused speculation earlier this off-season that he might sit out the year to heal up.

“Certainly, he’s a bit of an unknown in terms of health,” said Holland. “He didn’t practice basically the last two, two-and-a-half months of the season, he just played games.”

The Red Wings are in a clear transition phase at the moment and it’d be great for their younger players to have someone like Zetterberg around. But there’s also the fact that he still has three years remaining on a contract that carries a $6.083 million cap hit through the 2020-21 season. He’s not going to retire and forfeit the money owed to him, so it’s looking like a long layoff is in the cards.

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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.

Henrik Zetterberg calls out Red Wings for playing ‘poke-and-hope’ hockey

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The Detroit Red Wings enjoyed 25 years of playoff hockey, but that streak came to a crashing halt last season and it looks like it’ll continue into this year. When veterans that are used to having on-ice success have to endure losing seasons, it becomes tough for them to digest. Henrik Zetterberg is one of those guys.

The Wings captain has won it all, but the frustrations of this season seem to be mounting for him. After Thursday’s 4-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, Zetterberg let it be known that he wasn’t impressed with the way some of the young players on his team were playing.

“There’s too much poke-and-hope on a lot of players,” Zetterberg said, per the Detroit Free Press. “If you want to be a solid good player in this league, and if you want to win something, you have to learn to play the right way.

“You have to play defense first. We have guys in here who have enough skill to create chances and get enough chances. You can’t force and gamble all the time. You have to do it right and eventually you will get chances. It’s not often you get chances when you cheat. Sometimes you will get rewarded but not in the long run.”

The 37-year-old Zetterberg didn’t name names, but it was clear that two of his potential targets were Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou.

Exhibit A:

For those of you wondering what “poke-and-hope” hockey is, head coach Jeff Blashill defines it pretty well:

“Poke-and-hope hockey is called 50-50 hockey,” Blashill told the Free Press. “It’s a way to lose tons of games. To me it’s a young mistake and we had enough young guys do it for sure. You basically poke and you hope that you get it and if you don’t get it they’re going to get a chance. Well, that’s not the way you win. You want to create chances without giving up chances. When you play poke-and-hope hockey you’re done.”

Poke-and-hope might be fun for fans, but it definitely doesn’t get teammates and coaches excited.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Malkin continues torrid pace

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Players of the Night:

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Malkin scored two more goals on Friday, bringing his total over the past three games to seven. That’s a lot. Malkin is now four back of Alex Ovechkin, who also scored twice on Friday.

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: This seems to be a trend when yours truly writes The Buzzer. Mrazek was great again on Friday, stopping 36-of-37. His past six starts have been remarkably good. Two shutouts and in five of those six outings, his save percentage was no less than .944.

Highlights of the Night:

The goal was good. The call was better.

Phil the Thrill:

Aho with the one-handed mid-air tap in.

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Penguins 7, Capitals 4

Red Wings 4, Hurricanes 1

Sharks 3, Blue Jackets 1

Wild 5, Golden Knights 2


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

Zetterberg: Babcock leaving Detroit was best for both sides

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Henrik Zetterberg doesn’t exactly sound heartbroken about Mike Babcock’s departure from the Detroit Red Wings’ bench.

Perhaps that boils down to hearing the sound of Babcock’s voice for a decade.

“There’s a lot of guys in here who’ve been through the same stuff for many years,” Zetterberg told MLive.com on Thursday. “I think now with the additions of Green and Richards, and the new coach, it’s given us a little fresh start. Obviously, it’s going to be a different voice behind the bench and sometimes you need that.”

Jeff Blashill replacing Babcock as head coach isn’t the only thing that excites Detroit’s verstaile captain.

The 34-year-old also praised Mike Green as “the kind of defenseman we didn’t have” and seems happy about gaining another veteran voice in Brad Richards.

Considering the Red Wings’ recent – relative – struggles (especially two straight first-round exits and just one series win since 2011-12), one might also do the math about Zetterberg’s advancing age and what may appear to be diminishing returns.

Of course, with Pavel Datsyuk possibly out for a big chunk of the regular season and Babcock gone, many will shine the spotlight of blame on Zetterberg if the slightly-new-look Red Wings sputter early on.