Does Dylan Larkin Deserve $9+ Million AAV?


Detroit Red Wings Captain Dylan Larkin is a free agent this off-season. Stop me if you’ve heard that before.

It’s a bit interesting to see a team’s best player, captain, and hometown kid playing on an expiring deal. But Larkin is an interesting player.

He’s a really good player. Some nights he’s a star player. Other nights, Red Wings fans are really hoping Marco Kasper becomes a No. 1 NHL center.

Larkin is a tweener. And that makes the question of how much should the team pay him a difficult one.

According to Ansar Khan of MLive, the 26-year-old captain is asking for at least $9 million a year. But the Red Wings, at this point, are only offering $8 million. To us mere mortals, the difference between eight and nine million doesn’t seem like much. But in the NHL that’s quite a difference.

Larkin currently has 43 points in 47 games played. That’s good for 58th best in the league in terms of points per game with .915 this season. That’s down from .987 points per game that Larkin was on pace for last year in 71 games.

On faceoffs he has a career average of 51.7. Not exactly elite, although it’s worth mentioning that Larkin is up to 54 percent this year.

He’s played through pain and it’s evident the dude plays his ass off night in and night out. I was surprised in a recent game to see him half ass it to a loose puck. That resulted in the opposing team picking up the puck and score a few seconds later. But that was a rare occurrence.

Not the Best Help

I’ve also often wondered what Larkin would look like with better wingers flanking him. He doesn’t have the luxury of Nikita Kucherov or Artemi Panarin next to him.

Tyler Bertuzzi is a nice player but probably isn’t a top line guy on most championship caliber teams. Neither is Lucas Raymond, who is still young enough to become one of those guys.

Better players around you will obviously help your own statistics. There is a reason most big-time quarterbacks have a Davante Adams, Stefan Diggs or Ja’Marr Chase to throw to.

Hell, I remember Larkin’s earlier years when he had Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm on his wing. I felt sorry for the guy.

Having a better supporting cast will only help Larkin look more like a first line center on a consistent basis. Which is what Wings fans are hoping for. But the more Larkin gets paid, the more difficult that task becomes for general manager Steve Yzerman.

The big comparison people use for Larkin’s potential new deal is Matthew Barzal. The New York Islanders forward signed an 8-year deal in October worth $9.15 million per year. He turns 26-year-old in May.

Barzal averaged .86 points per game for his career when he signed that extension. Larkin currently sits at .73 for his career average. That’s a noticeable difference.

But Larkin has two things in his favor that Barzal doesn’t. He’s the captain of the team and grew up in the area. There isn’t a stat to measure those but they do play a factor.

For what it’s worth, Larkin is also significantly better than Barzal on faceoffs.

Does He Deserve $9M or Not?

This negotiation is likely going to come down to who blinks first. Does Yzerman cave to Larkin’s demands of $9 million a year or does Larkin come down on the price?

Athletes are usually going to say the right thing that they don’t want to play anywhere else and blah blah blah. In this case I really do believe Larkin wants to be here long-term. Again, he’s the captain and he grew up here, why wouldn’t he?

But I don’t think he and his agent are going to come down on price. And Yzerman is going to have to make a decision. Ultimately, I think he gives him what he wants. Whether he’s really deserving of it or not.

Another thing to keep in mind, the NHL has been stubborn to raise the salary cap since the pandemic has ended. Unlike the NFL who reportedly is going to raise there’s by $16.6 million next season.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in December that the league might raise the cap by $1 million next year. Bettman claimed the players still owed the league money because of revenue losses from the pandemic.

If revenue outperforms the current projections, the cap could go up by more than $4 million. That’s quite different from going up only a million.

The point of all of this is that the league’s salary cap is likely to go up by a fairly significant amount over the next couple of years. Which would make giving Larkin $9 million instead of $8 or $8.5 million not as big of a deal.

Yzerman is a smart guy, he’s well aware of this. Another reason I expect him to blink first and give Larkin what he’s asking.

Photo credit:David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports