A couple of weeks ago Ken Holland had a big decision to make when it came to Dylan Larkin’s future—bridge the gap on a short-term deal or lock up the 21-year-old long-term. Holland chose the latter and sent a pretty clear message to the hockey world that the front office believes in Larkin to be the centerpiece of their rebuilding phase.
Larkin’s 5-year, $30.5M contract extension couldn’t have come at a better time either, with growing concerns from Holland whether Henrik Zetterberg will actually play this season. If this team is committed to making Larkin their next leader (and by every indication we’ve seen over the summer in the media, they are), then this is absolutely the right time to give him a lengthier extension coming off a career-high 63-point season that led all Red Wings players.
If you look at the basis of the contract, $6.1M AAV seems fair after considering some contract comparables from around the NHL. With a cap hit percentage of 7.67%, this deal doesn’t appear all that bad on the surface, so let’s dive into how it stacks up with some similar signings of young centers around the NHL.
Bo Horvat, C, Vancouver Canucks
Age of signing: 22
Contract: 6-year, $33M ($5.5M AAV)
Cap hit%: 7.33%
Horvat signed a lucrative contract extension with the Canucks last summer on the heels of a career-high 51 points 81 games to lead the team in scoring. The Canucks brass invested a lot in the former London Knights product, drafting him ninth overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and are expecting big things from him moving forward. He will likely be paired with sensational right winger Brock Boeser on the top line and very much has some scoring upside.
In juniors, Horvat was never a prolific scorer like some at the OHL level—he topped 70 points once—but he’s known as a tenacious competitor and sound two-way center who is defensively reliable in his own end. With 117 points in 231 career games to this point, Horvat still has a lot to prove on his contract and for me, the door is very much wide open like it is for Larkin moving forward.
Mika Zibanejad, C, New York Rangers
Age of signing: 24
Contract: 5-year, $26.75M ($5.35M AAV)
Cap hit%: 7.13%
This is one contract that sheds some light on the Larkin extension. Zibanejad has been anything but flashy since coming over from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Derick Brassard during the 2016 offseason.
The Sens saw fit to trade the Swedish center following a career-high 51 points in 81 games that summer, and I’m starting to think they were onto something. Since being acquired by the Rangers, Zibanejad has battled through some injuries, and has put up 84 points in 128 games (0.65 P/G).
While he did manage a career-high 27 goals in 2016-17, he also has a comparable impact to Larkin when it comes to 5-on-5 play. Since the start of 2015, Zibanejad is averaging a CF% of 49.68% and Larkin is averaging a CF% of 50.17% (per corsicahockey.com). With 95 more games under his belt and a 48 point cushion, it’s completely conceivable that Larkin can surpass Zibanejad’s career totals to this stage of his career with just a 50-point season in 2018-19.
Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida Panthers
Age of signing: 20
Contract: 6-year, $35.4M ($5.9M AAV)
Cap hit%: 8.08%
I’ll preface this by saying I absolutely love this contract for the Panthers because Barkov is worth every single penny. The big, swift skating Finnish center inked this extension following the completion of his entry-level deal that saw him put up 59 points in 66 games. Fast-forward to 2017-18 and he led the Panthers in scoring with 78 points in 79 games — pretty impressive for a 21-year-old if you ask me.
Barkov would be the type of player that Wings fans hope Larkin becomes, not only points wise, but being impactful around his teammates. Barkov has averaged a CF% of 52.81% over the past two seasons to go along with his prolific scoring ability.
Matt Duchene, C, Ottawa Senators
Age of signing: 22
Contract: 5-year, $30M ($6M AAV)
Cap hit%: 9.33%
Duchene is entering the final year of this contract he signed during the summer of 2014 with the Colorado Avalanche. From the onset, it was a major investment for the Avs front office and rightfully so as Duchene went on a tear in the 2013-14 season with 70 points in 71 games. The future looked bright for the young center, but since inking that deal, he’s never eclipsed the 59-point mark.
There are similarities here between the timing of these two deals and when they will expire, but the important thing to note is the comparison of cap hit percentages from 9.33% to 7.67%. Sure, some of this is affected by the ever-changing salary cap ceiling, but I don’t think Holland overpaid here, especially with several expiring veteran deals on the horizon.
Sean Monahan, C, Calgary Flames
Age of signing: 21
Contract: 7-year, $44.625M ($6.375M AAV)
Cap hit%: 8.73%
Monahan has been very solid for the Flames since signing this deal. He finished with 64 points in 74 games last year—31 goals tied a career-high and 33 assists was a career mark—and has now topped 60 points in three of his last four seasons. If you’re looking for the type of two-way center that Larkin could become if everything goes right, then look no further than Monahan who fits the bill of a Jonathan Toews. Monahan is revered in that Flames locker room and could one day be their captain just like Larkin has been talked about among Red Wings players and management alike.
Regardless of your feelings about Larkin’s on-ice performance, he took a clear step in the right direction last year. His teammates commend him for a great work ethic during practice where he’s been consistently seen working on additional drills 30 minutes after everyone has hit the dressing room. It’s not just about points, but intangibles too.
He’s well respected for a young guy in the locker room and if he continues to hone his skills, there’s no telling where his ceiling on the ice might be? After all, think what you want of Holland and Co., but they must see something in the kid if his character traits are being compared to other Red Wings greats like Nick Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman and Zetterberg...
The Red Wings signed their future captain to a five-year deal. Dylan Larkin will wear the 'C' for his hometown team after Henrik Zetterberg retires. I think that's clear.— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) August 12, 2018
Ken Holland compared him to Yzerman, Lidstrom, & Zetterberg on Friday. pic.twitter.com/rhyQYMbfzw
Holland’s decision to sign Larkin to a long-term extension was the right move. He didn’t overpay like some of you at home might be thinking considering his history with some of the veteran deals on this team — Niklas Kronwall, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm and Jonathan Ericsson to name a few.
The Red Wings are getting younger despite bringing back Mike Green and Thomas Vanek during the offseason (yes, they are technically the oldest team in the NHL heading into the 2018-19 season), but the team will have nearly $18-million coming off the books next summer with the expiring deals of Kronwall, Vanek and Gustav Nyquist and Jimmy Howard.
So, I’m not nearly as hot and bothered about their cap situation as others, especially since Johan Franzen and possibly Zetterberg will join that list as well for cap relief. Overall, it was the right move for the Red Wings and it shows trust in Larkin’s growth as a player not only on the ice, but in the locker room as well.