"Tell me the team that Dylan Larkin would rather play for than Detroit," NHL insider Elliotte Friedman said on the most recent episode of his podcast 32 Thoughts.
A few days earlier at the All-Star Game, Larkin had answered this question himself: "I really see myself as a Red Wing." As the weekend unfolded, maybe that's why so many of Larkin's peers kept asking him another question: Why haven't you signed yet?
Asked another way, why haven't they signed you?
"Everyone knows what’s going on around the league and guys are asking why it hasn’t been done yet and stuff like that," Larkin said Monday as the Red Wings returned from the All-Star break. "Not really details, just shooting the sh*t."
The details are the dilemma, of course. Steve Yzerman and the Wings want to keep Larkin at their price, Larkin wants to stay with the Wings at his price. There's a growing sentiment that Yzerman won't budge, that he'd rather trade the Red Wings' captain, either in the next month ahead of the deadline or this summer ahead of free agency, than pay Larkin more than he wants to.
And there's a growing sentiment that Larkin will either have to accept this, or accept playing for someone other than his hometown team.
"I think Dylan Larkin truly does want to be a Detroit Red Wing," said Friedman. "He’s invested a lot in them, he’s from there, he’s the captain of the team. I think he’s coming to the realization that if he’s going to re-sign in Detroit, it’s not going to be the same number he could get somewhere else."
Fellow center Bo Horvat just got eight years, $68 million from the Islanders following a long-rumored trade from the Canucks, $8.5 million per year that Larkin would likely command on the open market. Horvat is in the midst of a career year with 31 goals through 49 games -- to Larkin's 15 through 47 -- but Larkin has more points per game over the last three seasons. He's also a year younger.
Horvat came of age on bad teams in Vancouver, like Larkin in Detroit. Neither one was good enough to stop the losing himself. Both were good enough to wear the 'C' on their jerseys and the losing on their sleeves. Larkin's face has been etched in anguish in Detroit. But he and the Red Wings are closing in on their future. What's it worth to Larkin to see it through? Horvat's future will be written in New York.
"I see what he signed for, and good for him," Larkin said. "He’s had a great year. He’s put the puck in the net, he’s just produced. With all the attention (on him) and everything that’s been going on, the way he’s produced is very impressive."
Is Larkin one of the 15 best centers in the NHL? No, but neither is Horvat. The going rate is the going rate, except maybe in Detroit, where Yzerman would rather build with Larkin than around him. Yzerman also knows the Wings and only the Wings can offer Larkin an eighth year that would likely balance the scales should he search elsewhere this summer for more money per year.
Larkin said he doesn't speak with his agent often, only when his agent wants to talk. He's a hockey player in the midst of a heavy business deal: "The less you hear is the better." Now that Horvat is off the market, Larkin is by far the best center who's A) a pending unrestricted free agent and B) even vaguely available ahead of the deadline. He could cash in if he was open to switching teams.
But again: "I see myself as a Red Wing."
"Centers are hard to find," said Friedman. "There’s going to be teams out there that want centers. I think he could easily make more money on an (average annual value) outside of Detroit that he can make in it."
Should Larkin get dealt, his no-trade clause will allow him to pick his next team and essentially his next contract. He would almost surely have an extension lined up with his new club. Eight years, $68 million would probably be the starting point. But he already wears the only jersey he's ever wanted to wear. No one else can offer Larkin the opportunity to lead his favorite team back to glory, and Yzerman knows that, too.
It's been an interesting few months for Larkin, whose career season has taken a backseat to discussions about his contract. He said he knows "the fans are wondering" about his future, because he is, too: "You think about it, but you have to block it out."
"You gotta play," Larkin said, "and thank god (for that). I felt the summer was worse because there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t go out and play and work as hard as possible."
If everything works out, this summer will be quiet. They need each other, Larkin and the Red Wings, even if they want each other on different terms. Larkin isn't making more than $9 million per year on the open market, which means he isn't making more than $63 million total. The Red Wings can offer him, say, $66 million over eight years and the chance to be like his heroes of yesterday.
And Larkin, at long last, can offer the Red Wings a better tomorrow.
Listen live to 97.1 The Ticket via:
Audacy App | Online Stream | Smart Speaker