Prior to the season, Dylan Larkin signed a 5 year deal for $30.5 million USD with his hometown Detroit Red Wings.
At an average annual value (AAV) of $6.1 million, this contract is beginning to look like a steal. As a top line centre, Larkin is playing at a level that is blowing his prior production out of the water. On pace for 79 points, he is likely to blow his career high (63 points – last season) out of the water. Plus, he’s got a chance at becoming the first point per game player for the Wings since Pavel Datsyuk (2014-15 when he had 65 points in 63 games)
With the recent signing of Auston Matthews to a 5 year, $58.17 million (11.634 AAV), and the speculated contracts of restricted free agents Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantenen and Brayden Point among others all looking like deals at or around $10 million per season, Larkin looks like a steal. In a season where Larkin is establishing himself as a number one center in the league, he is helping provide value on the dollar for the Wings.
Currently sitting 40th in league scoring, Larkin is outpacing many centremen including Logan Couture, Ryan Johansen and Evgeny Kuznetsov. While Couture makes money almost on par with Larkin, his new contract kicks in next season for $8 million for the next 8 seasons. Johansen is in the second year of an 8 year, $64 million contract ($8 million AAV) and Kuznetsov is in the second year of an 8 year deal that pays him $7.8 million. Larkin and the three centres above all signed their deals within the last two years. While all of these players are key contributors to their teams, Dylan Larkin is the clear leader of his team. He’s also their top point producing centre and doesn’t have a ton of true offensive threats at his side. All three players listed above are on teams with so much offensive firepower, opposing teams aren’t able to focus in on those players.
Larkin’s Transitional Play
Larkin is an elite transition and neutral zone player. He is among the best in the NHL at transitioning the puck through the neutral zone and entering the zone with possession. Figure 1 below shows that Larkin is carrying the puck through the neutral zone and entering the zone with possession at a rate higher than most players while not relying on passing the puck to others in the neutral zone to enter the offensive zone, but rather carrying the puck in himself.
He’s not only entering the offensive zone with the puck on his stick, he’s also doing quite well when you look at his transitional play. (Figure 2) This is often due to his ability to control the puck in the neutral zone while attacking the offensive blue-line with elite speed.
How the Contract Helps
With Dylan Larkin’s ability to change a game with his speed and skill, his contract is providing value beyond the stat line. The Detroit Red Wings are currently spending more on the salary cap than any other team in the NHL. The table (screenshot of CapFriendly.com) below shows the Red Wings salary cap situation in comparison to other squads.
With the Wings up against the cap, they needed to find a way to lock Larkin up at a low cap number. They were fortunate that Larkin struggled in his sophomore season, only putting up 32 points, before bouncing back to have a 63 point season last year. Larkin’s inconsistently allowed the Red Wings front office to offer Larkin a team-friendly deal.
With Larkin taking a team-friendly deal, it’s been helpful when it comes to roster management. The Red Wings have many ugly contracts including Justin Abdelkader ($4.25 Million through 2022-23), Frans Nielsen ($5.25 million through 2021-22) and Danny DeKeyser ($5 million through 2021-22). With Larkin willing to take a pay-cut, this means that the Red Wings don’t have to worry about buying out contracts or finding new homes for these players.
Between the aforementioned Abdelkader, Nielsen, and Darren Helm ($3.85 million through 2020-21) the Red Wings have $13.35 million tied up for the next two seasons. That’s pretty bad considering that these three players combine for an average of 0.38 points per game.
On defense, the Red Wings are currently paying DeKeyser, Trevor Daley ($3.166 million through next season) and Jonathan Ericsson ($4.25 million through next season) for a combined $12.416 million USD. That’s pretty bad considering that these three defensemen are top 6 defenders at this point in their careers.
Instead of having a tremendous amount of cap space that the Red Wings could use on youth, they are stuck paying veterans a ton of money.
Managing The Cap
Mismanagement of the cap is a flaw that can affect your team for years. Cap flexibility is key to building a winning team because it allows you to improve your team when you are ready to compete.
Unfortunately for the Red Wings, getting rid of these contracts is going to require some creativity. But, it needs to be done. In order for the Red Wings to succeed long-term, their general manager, Ken Holland needs to surround Larkin with talent.
Larkin is easily the face of the team. In fact, Larkin is predicted by many to be the next captain of the Detroit Red Wings in the coming season. The choice seems obvious. Larkin is the Wings best player and he’s willing to take a hometown discount.
Teams generally succeed by paying big money to their high-end players and filling in around them with good value contracts and young players to help supplement the team around them. Larkin’s willingness to take a little less is key to helping the Red Wings pay talent down the road.
But, it’s up to Holland to dump some of the Wings’ awful contracts to create cap space. All eyes will be on the 63 year old general manager.
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Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals