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Trying to make sense of the Dylan Larkin situation
The Red Wings captain is a pending UFA and still is unsigned
Dylan Larkin scored again last night for the Detroit Red Wings, sweeping home a power play tally in the first period. He also added an assist, winning a face-off back to Olli Maata, for good measure in a 5-4 shootout victory against the Edmonton Oilers.
After a trip to South Florida for the All-Star Game, where he probably should have won the MVP award, Larkin has been on a second-half heater in February.
The Detroit captain has five goals and two assists during a four-game point streak, he’s shooting at a cool 31.3 percent, and he’s got a pair of game-winning goals.
Pretty good timing for a player currently in a contract showdown with Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman.
It’s also a financial showdown that’s difficult to get a full read on.
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Yzerman has a reputation for playing things close to the vest, and avoiding the media, which is true. But he also doesn’t give much when it comes to sharing any information with those within the organization, Yzerman talks hockey, he looks for input from his staff, but he rarely gives them any indication of what way he’s leaning.
For many NHL insiders, they have team sources across the league who can simply be the temperature-checker-guy… terrible name, I know… the voice that can help fire up a hunch or confirm interest in something.
That doesn’t exist in Detroit. “That’s a Steve question,” is a line Derek Lalonde frequently delivers in press conferences, but it’s also an ethos the rest of the Wings organization lives by, Yzerman’s exact plan stays with Yzerman and he has an ownership group that gets out of the way — a lot of rumors and leaks come from chatty owners.
On the other side Larkin’s camp buttoned things down this season when it came to passing information. He changed agents in the summer, firing Kurt Overhardt and Joe Oliver, and hiring Matt Williams and Pat Brisson at CAA sports.
Larkin himself has always been soft-spoken on off-ice things, he’s only addressing the contract when he really has to, and pretending you truly know what Larkin is thinking is faulty.
There are assumptions you can make about potential Larkin contract extensions, and there are certain things that come with more confidence than others, but in reality the rest of us are watching a staring contest where neither side cares to include the audience.
From a “feeling” perspective, I’ve spoken to other players around the league, including some that know Larkin rather well, who claim he wants to be a Red Wing. That’s enough for some people to report, “I’m hearing this….” when in reality it’s nothing more than the status quo, of course Larkin wants to stay in his home state, he just wants to be paid what he’s worth.
And that’s the biggest question of all of this, what is Larkin worth?
He’s on pace for an 81-point season, but he’s never been an 80-point player before this. Did he hit a new level at 26 or is this a classic case of contract-year bump?
Larkin’s lack of playoff experience, just five games with Detroit in 2016, is both a hinderance and a helper to his case.
NHL players are overpaid frequently for a postseason flourish. If Larkin were traded before the deadline to a contender, and continued his current pace of play, he’d be adding money to his pocket from a GM blinded by postseason success.
From a longevity standpoint, Larkin’s lack of playoff experience can be pivoted to a lack of wear-and-tear. Long playoff runs are why we all watch this sport, but they do a number on the body.
There’s also a market that was potentially set by Bo Horvat when he signed an eight year, $8.5 million per season contract extension with the New York Islanders. Horvat, like Larkin, has never been an 80-point player before this season, but is on pace for an 85-point campaign.
Larkin is slightly younger and certainly faster than Horvat, in my view, his game will age better than the former Canucks’ captain. But using context clues about Yzerman, and how he played hardball with Steve Stamkos in a similar situation in 2016, $8.5 million per season feels like a ceiling that the Red Wings GM won’t be willing to break.
If he went to the open market, Larkin would likely be able to secure the $9 million per season deal. Maybe even more if he truly opened up a bidding war between certain teams.
It’s overly cliched to put it this way, but it really comes down to Larkin deciding on what’s most important — staying in Detroit or getting the most money?
Larkin for the next three weeks still holds some cards to try and get a little bit of both. With a no-trade clause, he can limit any movement. Yzerman could wake up tomorrow and decide he wants to trade Larkin, but without the player’s permission he can’t.
That puts pressure on both sides to get something done before the March 3 trade deadline. Yzerman needing to capitalize, avoiding risking letting a highly valuable asset walk for nothing, and Larkin still in the window to get more money and stay in his home state.
It’s an odd dance to watch, because unless a complete break from character, neither side is going to give the rest of us any proper hints of what’s really happening.