The Detroit Red Wings have locked up the final piece of their team, signing Dylan Larkin to a five-year contract. Larkin had been clear recently that a contract was close to being completed, and that he was looking forward to his next chapter in Detroit. According to Craig Custance of The Athletic, the deal will carry an average annual value of $6.1MM, putting the Red Wings over the $79.5MM cap for this season. The team can go up to 10% ($7.95MM) over the ceiling during the offseason. Custance also provides us with the full salary breakdown:
- 2018-19: $5.75MM salary + $1MM signing bonus
- 2019-20: $7MM salary
- 2020-21: $4.75MM salary
- 2021-22: $6.75MM salary
- 2022-23: $5.25MM salary
The contract also includes a full no-trade clause in the final season, as Larkin was not eligible for any trade protection prior to that. Though it certainly doesn’t have much of an impact on his deal right now, that could be a huge factor given that the forward is now scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency at the age of 26. Larkin celebrated his 22nd birthday just a few days ago, and has the potential to be the absolute top option on the UFA market down the line. The no-trade clause will limit the Red Wings if they can’t work out an extension, though that isn’t something they’ll have to worry about for some time.
Instead, the Red Wings brass will be celebrating as they lock up the new face of their franchise for at least another five seasons. Larkin led the team in scoring with 63 points this season and started to fully realize his immense potential. One of the best skaters in the entire league, Larkin’s transition to center full-time this season came with a different offensive style as he couldn’t rely on his blazing speed to get around defenders on every rush. Instead he became a top notch distributor and trailed only Connor McDavid, Mathew Barzal, Claude Giroux, Steven Stamkos and Artemi Panarin in even-strength assists. Though his speed can still give defenders trouble in a one-on-one situation, Larkin will hopefully continue to grow his offensive arsenal over the next few years.
Unfortunately for Detroit, his breakout meant that they had to pay up in this deal to keep him around. The team now projects to be more than $3MM over the cap ceiling for the upcoming season, and even with the flexibility that can be created by placing Johan Franzen on long-term injured reserve, will need to make an additional move before the offseason concludes. As we discussed in our live chat yesterday, some of the obvious candidates for trade are Gustav Nyquist, Darren Helm and Luke Glendening, though it’s not clear what the market would be for any of them. It is interesting to look at the deals handed out this summer to Thomas Vanek ($3MM AAV), Mike Green ($5.375MM AAV) and Jonathan Bernier ($3MM AAV) now that the team is in a bind financially. Though all three should help the team on the ice, Vanek and Green both received no-trade clauses and Bernier is the only goaltender signed past the upcoming season.
Detroit isn’t exactly set up to compete for the Stanley Cup in 2018-19, but they certainly shouldn’t be among the very worst in the league. Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou headline a nice young core up front, while Bernier and Jimmy Howard should be an above-average goaltending tandem. There isn’t much upside on defense at the moment, but with more youth coming in players like Dennis Cholowski, Jared McIsaac and Gustav Lindstrom it could change quickly. There is also the wildcard of Filip Zadina, who could make the club out of camp and step right into a big offensive role. The team does have to remember that he can earn up to $850K in performance bonuses though, which would be carried over to next season if the team does not have cap space.
Today is about Larkin though, who will now be expected to take another step forward and become the player Detroit builds around. As Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall drift off into the sunset and the last remnants of the last golden age of Detroit hockey fades away, Larkin will be the one tasked with ushering in the next competitive team.