Why Detroit Red Wings, Dylan Larkin need to find common ground on a contract

Detroit Free Press

This weekend marks Dylan Larkin’s third appearance representing the Detroit Red Wings at the All-Star Game. It shouldn’t be his last one.

Larkin is in the final year of a five-year contract signed before the 2018-19 season, with unrestricted free agency on the horizon. It’s the type of situation that begets uncertainty as the trade deadline nears. The sides have been able to negotiate since last summer, and the lack of a new deal is becoming a distraction.

Larkin has been a key part of the rebuild since the former management group chose the metro Detroit-area native with the No. 15 pick in 2014. He was named captain by general manager Steve Yzerman in January 2021, and now it’s on Yzerman to find a way to fit Larkin into the budget beyond this season.

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In August 2018, Larkin signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract that recognized his importance to the Wings. With Henrik Zetterberg about to retire (he did so that September) and Pavel Datsyuk two years gone, Larkin was the clear centerpiece of the rebuild. He went on to score 32 goals the first year of the deal. His numbers — 162 goals among 401 points and a minus-84 rating in 551 career games — partly reflect a Wings roster often lacking talent. He posted 19 goals in 2019-20, the season in which the Wings they had won just 17 of their 71 games when the pandemic shut things down in mid-March. Last season, Larkin rebounded with 31 goals in 71 games, and he has 15 goals in 47 games this season. He had a team-leading 13 when the NHL announced on Jan. 5 that Larkin would represent the Wings on the Atlantic Division roster in this weekend’s All-Star festivities in Sunrise, Florida, marking his second straight selection to the mid-season gala.

The Wings have offered the 26-year-old an eight-year, $64-million contract. The $8 million annual average value would give Larkin a nearly $2 million raise and would give Yzerman flexibility as he faces extending the contracts of young stars Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond, both soon-to-be restricted free agents, next season.

Larkin’s side — he switched representation last May from KO Sports to CAA — can counter with a comparable courtesy of New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello: Last October, the Islanders signed Mathew Barzal for $73.2 million over eight years, which averages out to $9.15 million per season (with the extension kicking in for the 2023-24 season). Barzal is a year younger than Larkin, was drafted at No. 16 in 2015, and has 103 goals among 354 points in 413 career games.

Teams can offer their own pending UFAs an eight-year contract, while no other team can offer more than seven. A seven-year offer at $9 million per year works out to $63 million, $1 million less than the Wings’ total offer. The Wings’ offer comes with something Larkin can’t do anywhere else: Captain his hometown’s Original Six franchise.

Larkin said last week that there are “no hard feelings” about not having a deal done. The sides have made progress since last summer, narrowing the gap from $1 million apart per season.

Larkin has a no-trade clause this season, though those can be waived with a player’s approval. But if the Wings trade Larkin, their lack of depth at center will look like a chasm. Andrew Copp has played better of late, but he hasn’t performed up to the expectations that come with the five-year, $28.125 million contract he received last summer. There isn’t anybody in the system who can come in and center the top line. The Wings were interested in Bo Horvat, a soon-to-be UFA who the Vancouver Canucks were dangling in trade talks, but Lamoriello gave the Wings issues there, too; his Islanders traded for the center this week. Their price — a veteran (seventh-year forward Anthony Beauvillier), a prospect (2021 second-rounder Aatu Raty) and a protected 2023 first-round pick — suggests they’re confident they can get Horvat, an All-Star this season with 31 goals in 49 games, under contract.

Even if there’s no movement on Larkin’s deal by the March 3 trade deadline, it doesn’t mean the Wings risk losing him for nothing — they can, if it comes down to it, trade his rights before NHL free agency begins in July. But for both sides, the ideal solution is to find common ground, as quickly as possible.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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