Steve Yzerman

Getty Images

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

2 Comments

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

————

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.

Yzerman’s game plan and other questions facing the Red Wings

Getty Images

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.

Let’s ponder three questions facing the Red Wings in 2019-20…

1. What is Yzerman’s game plan this year? 

He’s made only a couple of depth moves and shocked the hockey world at the 2019 NHL Draft when he selected Moritz Seider sixth overall.

Yzerman seems content to let another year of the team’s rebuild run its course. There are low expectations in terms of the team’s success this year, and having a full season at the helm to assess where that rebuild is at will allow him to go into next summer armed with better knowledge (and more cash to work with.)

The Red Wings will have $13 million likely coming off the books after this year on defense alone, including Mike Green, Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley — all aging players who likely won’t fit into the team’s long-term plans.

Jimmy Howard, 35, is also set to become a UFA. With Filip Larsson signing a three-year entry-level deal earlier this year, he will get a lot of action in Grand Rapids. If that pans out, perhaps he’s ready to make the jump in 2020-21.

Yzerman’s biggest challenge is finding what young up-and-comers are ready to make the jump to the Show this season.

Names like Filip Zadina, Taro Hirose and Michael Rasmussen are all waiting for their turn as regulars. There’s a fine line between a guy being ready and a guy being rushed. The Red Wings have no reason to rush anyone at this point, however.

[MORE: 2018-19 season review | Blashill under pressure? | X-factor]

2. Even if he wants to come back, should the Red Wings re-sign Niklas Kronwall

Yes, he’s a heart-and-soul guy who’s been with the club for ages. And even at 38, he still managed to come close to a 30-point season and missed just three games.

And there’s always that leadership component of a guy who knows what it takes to win.

But given his advanced age (in hockey years, of course) and the fact that the Red Wings already have a collection of older defensemen that can mentor some of the young guys like Filip Hronek, Dennis Cholowski and Madison Bowey, is it worth having Kronwall taking minutes from those guys?

The Red Wings aren’t going to be competing for a Stanley Cup this season.

They already added Patrik Nemeth, a just-in-case if Kronwall isn’t to return, so perhaps it’s time to move on.

3. Who is the team’s next captain? 

The good money is on Dylan Larkin and for good reason.

Despite being 22 (and age doesn’t matter much here), Larkin has shown he has what it takes between the ears to be the guy that leads this team forward.

The Red Wings rolled last season without one after the retirement of Henrik Zetterberg. Larkin filled in wearing an ‘A’ and handled those duties well.

Larkin also has a new GM who was once given the captaincy of the same team at age 21.

Larkin is doing the right things on and off the ice, which is exactly what a young captain on a rebuilding team should be doing. It seems like a no-brainer.

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

Where will Blashill figure in Yzerman’s long-term plans?

Getty Images
5 Comments

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.

When Steve Yzerman took over the reins of the Detroit Red Wings this past spring, he backed head coach Jeff Blashill, who had just received a two-year contract extension from the soon-to-be outgoing Ken Holland.

There was a sound reason for the new deal. Blashill, despite only seeing the playoffs once in the four years he’s been the team’s bench boss, was handed a bag of old parts and ones that were still being developed and told to make something good out of it.

That kind of ask takes time and Blashill has been given it. Known for his ability to develop younger players, something Yzerman alluded to when he gave his inherited head coach that vote of confidence, Blashill appears to be the right guy to at least get Detroit predominant pieces to the next level.

[MORE: 2018-19 season review | Three questions | X-factor]

But Yzerman know has his eyes squarely on the man leading the troops from ice-level. And contracts for coachings mean very little. Blashill’s leash will be as long as Yzerman permits it to be.

Yzerman knows how to build a winner. He did so as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2010-2018. And he knows what a good head coach looks like, whether it’s Jon Cooper in Tampa or Scotty Bowman, the GOAT and the man who Yzerman won his three Stanley Cups under as a player.

Blashill faces the pressures of any coach in a rebuild. There has to be tangible progress seen on the ice. The young core needs to get better and move into leading roles.

But Blashill also faces the pressure of not being Yzerman’s hand-picked bench boss. He could very well earn that title, of course. But he could also fall victim to the realities of a new GM coming in and wanting his fingerprints everywhere.

Despite their record last year, Detroit made tangible progress with those young players. Four of their under-25 forwards had career years in the goal department and there’s another wave of young talent to come.

Blashill is doing something right with the tools he’s been given, and apart from that young talent, there’s not much else there. Detroit finished the season strong with seven wins in its final 10 games.

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

Marleau-lites: How Red Wings, Senators can boost rebuilds

Getty Images
12 Comments

If you’re a fan of both hockey and team-building, the last few weeks have been Christmas in July. It might not be the most wonderful time of year if you demand smart team-building, though.

Plenty of teams have spent their money poorly lately, but at least two teams have really dropped the ball on boosting their rebuilds: the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators. Instead of seeing a blueprint in the Hurricanes creatively getting a first-round pick out of a Patrick Marleau trade and buyout, the Red Wings and Senators instead wasted their money on veterans who are unlikely to make much of a difference for their futures (Valtteri Filppula and Ron Hainsey, respectively).

The bad news is that Steve Yzerman and Pierre Dorion missed the boat at the most robust time. Jake Gardiner stands as a strong free agent option, yet the frenzy is now a dull rumble.

The good news is that there’s still time, as both teams have some space to take on Marleau-lite contracts, and there are contenders who need to make space. Before I list off some Marleau-lite contracts Detroit or Ottawa should consider absorbing, let’s summarize each team’s situations.

Bumpy road in Motor City

Filppula joins a bloated list of veteran supporting cast members who are clogging up Detroit’s cap, so it’s worth noting that the Red Wings only have about $5.284M in cap space, according to Cap Friendly.

The Red Wings have their normal array of picks for the next three years, along with an extra second in 2020, and also extra third-rounders in both 2020 and 2021. That’s decent, but why not buy more dart throws?

Senators’ situation

Ottawa has a whopping $22.84M in cap space, but of course, the real question is how much owner Eugene Melnyk would be willing to move above the floor of $60.2M. The Senators are currently at $58.6M, and RFA Colin White could eat up the difference and more. It’s plausible that Pierre Dorion is mostly closing down shop, at least beyond sorting out RFAs like White and Christian Wolanin.

The Senators have a ton of picks, as you can see from Cap Friendly’s guide, but only one extra first-rounder. That first-rounder could be very weak, too, being that it’s the San Jose Sharks’ 2020 first-rounder.

The one bit of promising news is that Melnyk’s already sent a message about this team being in rebuild mode. Why not make like the Rangers and take advantage of the situation by going all-out to land as many assets as you can, then?

Expiring deals contenders might want to trade away

  • Cody Eakin and other Vegas Golden Knights: Despite purging Colin Miller and Erik Haula, the Golden Knights are still in a tight situation, and that might mean losing out on intriguing RFA Nikita Gusev. Eakin seems like an excessive luxury at $3.85M. The 28-year-old could be very appealing as a rental at the trade deadline, so Ottawa/Detroit could gain assets in both trading for Eakin, then trading him away. Ryan Reaves ($2.755M) could make plenty of sense too — you may just need to distract fans with fights this season — but Vegas seems infatuated with the powerful pugilist.
  • Martin Hanzal: The Stars are primed to put the 32-year-old’s $4.75M on LTIR, but maybe they’d give up a little something to just get rid of the issue?
  • Sam Gagner: The Oilers are in tight. Maybe they’d want to use that $3.15M to, say, target Jake Gardiner on a hopeful one-year (relative) discount deal, or something? If there’s any way this ends in Ottawa or Detroit landing Jesse Puljujarvi, things get really interesting.
  • Patrick Eaves: Some scary health issues have cropped up for Eaves, who might be OK waiving his NMC, relieving the Ducks of $3.15M in cap concerns. Anaheim’s in a weird place between rebuilding and competing, which could make them pretty vulnerable.
  • Cody Ceci: Dare I wonder if the Red Wings might take on Ceci from Toronto for a price, allowing Toronto to focus on Mitch Marner and Alex Kerfoot? Ceci’s an RFA without a deal, so he probably fits in a different category, but worth mentioning if we’re going outside the box.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Longer deals, higher rates

  • David Backes: At $6M per year, Backes’ contract is as painful as his borderline hits often can be. That expires after 2020-21, though, making his term very interesting: it’s brutal for Boston (who have to tend to Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug), while it would be digestible for Detroit and especially Ottawa. How much would Boston be willing to fork over to gain some flexibility? If I’m Dorion or Yzerman, I’m blowing up Don Sweeney’s phone to find out.
  • Artem Anisimov: The Blackhawks have a slew of bad deals. They also seem like they’re living in the past, which means that an even bolder Brent Seabrook salary dump seems unlikely. A smart team would want to get rid of Anisimov’s contract ($4.55M AAV for two more years), and a savvy rebuilding team would extract assets to take on that burden.
  • Jack Johnson: It’s been a year, and I still can’t believe the Penguins gave Johnson $3.25M AAV for a single season, let alone for a mind-blowing term through 2022-23. Considering that contract, the Penguins probably still think too highly of Johnson, so they probably wouldn’t cough up the bounty I’d personally need to take on this mega-blunder of a deal. It’s worth delving into a discussion, though. If the Penguins hit a Kings-style wall, who knows how valuable their upcoming picks might end up being?
  • James Neal: Woof, the 31-year-old’s carrying $5.75M through 2022-23. That would be a lot to stomach, but Calgary’s in a win-now state, and might be convinced to fork over quite a bit here. The dream scenario of Neal getting his game back, and either becoming easier to trade down the line, or a contributor to a rebuild, isn’t that outrageous, though it is unlikely. Much like with Johnson, I’d want a significant haul to take this problem off of the Flames’ hands, but I’d also be curious.
  • Loui Eriksson: Much like with Johnson in Pittsburgh, the key here would be Jim Benning admitted that he made an enormous gaffe in Eriksson’s $6M AAV, which runs through 2021-22. That’s questionable, as the Canucks are making it a tradition to immediately ruin draft weekend optimism with free agent armageddon.

That said, if Vancouver admits that Eriksson is an albatross, and decides to pay up to rid themselves of that issue … at least this only lasts through 2021-22. That term might just work out for Ottawa, if Vancouver threw in enough sweeteners to appease The Beastie Boys.

  • Kyle Turris: What if the Senators brought back a beloved community figure, while charging the Predators an exorbitant rate to absorb his an exorbitant contract? It’s possible that Turris could enjoy a rebound of sorts, and Nashville made an already-expensive center group close to outlandish with Matt Duchene. Turris’ deal runs through 2023-24, and he’s already 29, so I’d honestly probably not do it … unless the return was huge. Nashville and these rebuilding teams should at least have multiple conversations on the subject.

***

Overall, my favorite ideas revolve around landing someone like Eakin or Backes. The urgency should be there for contending teams in cap crunches, while their deals aren’t the type to interfere with rebuilds.

(Sorry, but Detroit and Ottawa both have a lot of work to do, and should probably assume that work extends beyond 2020-21.)

Now, do the Senators and Red Wings have the imagination, hunger, and leeway from ownership to make the sort of deals discussed in this post? I’m not overly optimistic about that, but the good news for them is that there are likely to be opportunities, if they seek them out.

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.

Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman practices patience in free agency

Getty Images
1 Comment

DETROIT — Steve Yzerman is practicing patience in his first year as the Detroit Red Wings’ general manager.

On the opening day of free agency, the Hockey Hall of Famer and former Red Wings great made some subtle moves to improve his roster without saddling the rebuilding franchise with big contracts.

Detroit signed both center Valtteri Filppula and defenseman Patrik Nemeth to two-year , $6 million contracts and added goaltender Calvin Pickard with a two-year deal.

”We’re looking at doing shorter-term deals with everyone that we spoke with,” Yzerman said Monday. ”Being new to the organization, I want to proceed somewhat slowly and kind of get to know what we have within the organization.”

Yzerman is trying to turn around a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016, its longest drought since a five-year skid ended in 1984 when he was a rookie in Detroit.

The Red Wings have a core of young players, led by Dylan Larkin, to build around and a slew of prospects they hope are pushing for playing time in the NHL. Yzerman is counting on a trio of veterans to add depth as complementary players.

He is also reuniting with Filppula for a third time.

Filppula, who helped Detroit win the 2008 Stanley Cup, played with Yzerman with the Red Wings and was signed by him in Tampa Bay.

”It’s always important to feel like the team wants you,” the 35-year-old Finn said. ”I know Stevie from before and have a good relationship.”

Filppula had 17 goals and 31 points last season with the New York Islanders. He has scored 185 times and has 494 points over 14 seasons with Detroit, Philadelphia the Lightning and the Islanders.

Likely on the second or third line, he is expected to play center to allow Andreas Athanasiou to play on the wing.

”We had a hole in the middle,” Yzerman said.

Nemeth had one goal and 10 points last year in Dallas. The 27-year-old Swede has four goals and 35 assists over six seasons with the Stars and Colorado Avalanche. Detroit may have to replace Niklas Kronwall, a key player on the blue line, to make help on the blue line even more of a priority. Yzerman has said Kronwall, a 38-year-old defenseman, can take his time this summer to decide whether he wants to return to play for the Red Wings or retire.

”With the uncertainty of Nik Kronwall and Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson missed time with injuries and going into the last year of their contracts,” Yzerman said, ”it was important to bring in a defenseman that can play now on the left side and help us in the future as well.”

Detroit signed Pickard to compete with Jonathan Bernier to be Jimmy Howard‘s backup and perhaps to give the team three goaltenders.

”Gives us a little bit of security,” Yzerman said.

Pickard is 32-50-9 with a 2.93 goals-against average during his five-season career with Colorado, Toronto, Philadelphia and Arizona. The 27-year-old Canadian was winless in four starts last season with the Coyotes.