Truth be told, it’s a little surprising that we are at this point.
The Detroit Red Wings and their fans have always known that this season was the last on captain Dylan Larkin’s contract. There was word during the summer that general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman met with Larkin’s new representation to begin preliminary discussions on a new contract. Since then, both parties have affirmed their desire to work out a deal that would keep Larkin in his home state of Michigan.
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“I don’t see myself playing anywhere else,” Larkin told reporters back in September at the start of training camp.
“He’s the captain, I expect him to be here for a long time,” Yzerman said. “Regarding his contract, we’ll figure that out. It will get done when it gets done.
And yet here we are, five weeks out from the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline, and Larkin is still without a contract. The latest word is that the two sides are about $1 million apart in terms of desired salary with Detroit looking for an average annual value (AAV) around $8 million, and Larkin’s camp seeking a number closer to $9 million. That’s a gap that can be bridged, but with the deadline looming, Yzerman still has the opportunity to reverse course and move Larkin in exchange for future assets. Once the deadline passes, the Red Wings will risk losing him with nothing in return if they aren’t able to work out a new deal.
So, just like Yzerman and his staff will do over the coming weeks, it’s time to consider the pros and cons of moving Larkin ahead of the trade deadline.
Pro: Refresh/Reset the Team
The Red Wings are currently sixth in the Atlantic Division, just three points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. Overall, they are 24th in the NHL and find themselves with middling statistics across the board. Despite an offseason that saw Yzerman spend $21,525,000 in free agency and hire an entirely new coaching staff, Detroit is still right around the same spot leaguewide that they were in last season. No matter how many times Yzerman trades players away and reshuffles the deck, the team is still too inconsistent to be a threat in the loaded Eastern Conference, let alone their division.
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In Yzerman’s four years as the Red Wings’ GM, there has been a ton of change to the roster. Only seven players remain from the 2019-20 roster – Yzerman’s first as GM – with the most prominent one being Larkin. To that point, Larkin is the longest-tenured player on the Red Wings’ roster, having first suited up for the team during the 2015-16 season.
It might be drastic, but removing the longest-tenured player would shake up the locker room in a way it hasn’t in a long time. As the captain, Larkin has answered all the tough questions during the Red Wings’ playoff drought, and he and the various other team leaders set the tone in the locker room. Without Larkin around, the team’s core young players like Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond would inherit this team as faces of the franchise. It would force new leaders to emerge, and it would send a resounding message that the status quo of the last couple of seasons is not acceptable.
Simply put: moving on from Larkin would be the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
Con: Red Wings Lack Impact Centers
Larkin has been the Red Wings’ top center for five seasons now. That is an undebatable fact.
Plenty of commenters on social media are quick to suggest that Larkin is not a “true” top-line center and therefore shouldn’t be paid like one. Context is key, however, and one look at the Red Wings’ depth chart reveals that Larkin is the best center this team has, and it’s not particularly close.
On their current roster, the Red Wings’ center group includes Larkin, Andrew Copp, Michael Rasmussen, Joe Veleno, Pius Suter, and a few other players that rotate between the wing and center. Of those players aside from Larkin, Copp is the most established NHL player and his .43 points per-game rate is the best. The Red Wings’ top pick in the 2022 draft, Marco Kasper, is a center, but he may need a year in the American Hockey League before truly challenging for a spot in the NHL.
With all due respect to Copp, if he is your team’s top center, your team is in trouble. Trading Larkin may net some quality assets in return, but the outlook for the 2023-24 season would look even worse as Detroit would have one of the worst group of centers in the NHL (based on the players they have right now.) The Red Wings have been trending towards competing for the playoffs in the near future, but that wouldn’t be the case anymore if they don’t have a single center capable of holding their own on the top line.
Pro: 2023 NHL Draft is Stacked
To this point in the Red Wings’ rebuild, they have traded a player in exchange for an additional first round pick twice. Tomas Tatar netted first, second and third round picks from the Vegas Golden Knights in 2018, and Anthony Mantha yielded a first and a second (and Jakub Vrana) back in 2021. One of the reasons Detroit’s rebuild has crawled along at a tedious pace is because they haven’t been able to acquire many first round picks through the trade market; consider that the Buffalo Sabres – whose rebuild has become something of a measuring stick for the Red Wings – made three picks in the first round of the 2022 draft after having two first round picks in the 2021 draft.
Acquiring another first round pick this year would be particularly beneficial because the 2023 draft class is quite possibly the deepest one we’ve seen in almost 10 years. If the Red Wings entered the draft with two first round picks or more, there’s a high probability that they would add two prospects that will become franchise cornerstones in the future. But you don’t acquire first round picks by selling scraps, you have to sell big pieces to get a big return.
Trading Larkin would yield the biggest return of the rebuild to this point. He’s a bona fide top six center that has averaged just shy of a point per-game over the last season and a half. Any trade package for the Red Wings’ captain begins with a first round pick and then a combination of additional picks and prospects. If Larkin agrees to an extension with that team as part of the deal, Detroit would receive even more in return.
If there has ever been a draft for the Red Wings to be all-in on, this is the one. They would be wise to add as many 2023 draft picks as possible, and moving (arguably) their best forward would certainly provide plenty of ammunition for Yzerman and his amateur scouting team.
Con: Impact on Lucas Raymond & Fans
Let’s face it: trading Larkin would make the Red Wings worse the moment the deal is official. The future assets gained would be a huge boost to the team’s future outlook, but after soon-to-be seven years without playoff hockey, you can’t blame fans if the idea of waiting for the future just doesn’t sound that appetizing anymore, especially when coupled with the idea of seeing Larkin play in another team’s jersey.
You don’t have to look too hard during a game at Little Caesars Arena to see people in the crowd wearing jerseys with the number 71 on the back. Since the end of the Red Wings’ 25-year playoff streak, Larkin has been the face of the rebuild, and that has endeared him to many fans in a way that the team’s youngest players simply haven’t. As the first Michigan-born captain of the Red Wings, he’s an easy player to cheer for, and he’s been nothing but gracious, polite and sincere since becoming the team’s 37th captain in franchise history. He may not be the only player on the team worth paying the price of admission to go see, he is one of them. On a team with very few true attractions, it would hurt fan interest to see one of those attractions get sent off for some magic beans (draft picks) and a hope and a prayer.
But the fans aren’t the only ones that would feel the sting of Larkin’s absence. His teammates – and one of his linemates specifically – would feel his absence in a big way.
Raymond has been a mainstay on Larkin’s right wing since he entered the league last season. The two of them display a ton of chemistry on the ice; Larkin has an assist on eight of Raymond’s 15 goals this season, and 22 of his 38 goals overall in the NHL. They are quick to hug and congratulate each other when they produce a goal; you can just tell that they love playing with each other.
Raymond is too talented for his growth to be completely stunted by a Larkin trade, but he wouldn’t exactly be in a position to flourish either. In the scenario where the team lacks a top line center because they traded Larkin, Raymond would likely become the team’s top forward and would be tasked with taking on a much bigger role in Detroit’s offense. Too much too soon? If Larkin gets dealt, they may not have choice.
Larkin Is Valuable to the Red Wings
Yzerman must weigh all of this and more as he decides what he wants to do with his captain. Both he and Larkin are eager to see the Red Wings’ losing ways come to an end, and the solution to that problem seems like it would be a lot easier to find with Larkin in the fold. However, in a salary cap league every dollar is critical, and that’s why a gap of $1 million can be quite large, even in the world of professional sports.
One way or another, we will soon find out what Yzerman thinks of his team and where they are in their rebuild. If he believes they are truly close to ending their playoff drought, an extension is likely around the corner. If he believes that they are still too far away from contending in the Atlantic Division, then he may opt to deal Larkin, effectively resetting the Red Wings’ window to align with the team’s younger stars. It’s a massive decision that will shape the Red Wings for the rest of the “Yzerplan” that so many fans have placed their trust in. Ideally, Yzerman would have all the time in the world to decide what to do with in this situation.
Instead, he has until March 3.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.