What We Learned: Dylan Larkin got how much?

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You don’t have to pay non-franchise players like they’re almost franchise players just because you don’t have anyone better than that. (Getty)
You don’t have to pay non-franchise players like they’re almost franchise players just because you don’t have anyone better than that. (Getty)

Any team with a 22-year-old who has 140 points in 242 games coming off his entry-level deal will, of course, look to retain that player.

Dylan Larkin is coming off a 63-point age-21 season, which isn’t a common occurrence in the NHL, and it’s probably a lot less common for players whose teams, to put it bluntly, stink. It’s your standard “big performance in a contract year” but because of how Larkin has performed in his three seasons in the NHL, he’s seen as one of those guys who’s a Franchise Player.

The Red Wings paid him as such: five years at a $6.1 million AAV for a player without the negotiating leverage of arbitration eligibility. It’s a rich contract, but there are a number of issues at play here. Larkin, again, is seen as the future of this franchise and while that future is more than a little dystopian right now. This is, after all, a guy who averages 47 points or so every 82 games, but people don’t really want to see it that way; we’ll get to why in a second.

The other thing obviously is that the Red Wings have made it their Whole Thing over the past several years to give absurd contracts to every mediocre player on the roster who could put together a 41-point season next to Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Indeed, the Larkin contract pushed the Red Wings, who finished 24 points out of the playoffs and had fewer wins than the Canucks last season, to the largest cap obligation in the league at more than $3.2 million over the limit.

However that comes with the caveat that Zetterberg is unlikely to ever play again so he won’t count against the cap on Day 1, even if he is signed for three more years. The same is true of Johan Franzen, who will never play again but is signed for two more seasons.

You can go down the list of bad deals on this: Zetterberg, Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Franzen, Darren Helm, Danny DeKeyser, Nik Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Mike Green, Trevor Daley, and probably one or two more I’m forgetting — it depends how you feel about Gus Nyquist too.

But let’s talk about why Larkin is seen as a franchise player despite the fact that he has fewer points in the last three seasons than Teuvo Teravainen. For one thing, he was really one of the first actual young players the Red Wings let come aboard without a few seasons of, well, seasoning in the AHL.

The path used to be simple: Get drafted, play two or three more years in junior or college, go to Grand Rapids for two or three more years, then hit the Detroit roster at 23 or 24. Like clockwork. But Larkin, a local kid with his blazing speed and high draft position at a time when the Wings were really starting to understand the need to infuse more youth, got his shot at 19, scored 23 goals and 45 points in 80 games. He even played in the All-Star Game for want of any better options on that Red Wings club. And look, no one is saying 45 points is a bad season from a 19-year-old, mainly because it’s pretty good; he finished fifth in Calder voting behind Artemi Panarin (who was 24 and played with Patrick Kane), Shayne Gostisbhere (which was silly), Connor McDavid (half a season), and Jack Eichel (strong 56-point age-19 season on an awful team). Not bad company to keep.

Less talked about was that Larkin only had 32 points in his second season, a classic sophomore slump, as his shooting percentage and shot production dropped. This past year the scoring went way up again, as did the shot production, because he got a bunch of time and succeeded alongside Anthony Mantha and Tomas Tatar, but it also didn’t hurt that the team shot almost 11 percent with Larkin on the ice at 5-on-5 this year.

The Red Wings, then, choose to see the low-percentage second season as not being any sort of harbinger of things to come, only the two good seasons sandwiching it, the second of which was very, very good. While I don’t know that I buy Larkin as a perennial 60-point guy, I can see him being in the low- to mid-50s and there’s a lot of value in that, especially if he can maintain his solid underlying numbers on a bad team.

Obviously he has room to grow since he just turned 22 a couple weeks ago. But how much growing can he reasonably do on a team like this? Even if it’s “some,” you can’t realistically picture a world in which Larkin is routinely scoring as much as, say, Brad Marchand, who’s in decline but also only makes $25,000 more against the cap than Larkin.

Is that worth $6.1 million? Probably not. There’s the inflationary impact of all those other bad Red Wings contract on his relative value, but this is a guy on a rotten, going-nowhere club who scores significantly less than Nik Ehlers but now makes $100,000 more than him against the cap.

The other problem for the Red Wings is that they’re likely to stink for a good chunk of the five years for which Larkin is now being overpaid, and at the end of that period he will be an unrestricted free agent heading into his age-27 season. Five years is a long time, of course, but shouldn’t the Wings have tried to buy, say, the two extra years for which Ehlers (who’s about four and a half months younger) is signed in Winnipeg at a lower cap hit?

I guess the question I have here is: “What’s the point?” Larkin is a “franchise player” in Detroit if only because they truly don’t have a better option and more to the point, if you think your “franchise player” is a winger who’s gonna score 50-something points every year, well, that’s not a very good franchise situation overall.

Not that anyone needed to be told Detroit was a mess, and not that this contract even pushes them into a worse situation. He’s a perfectly good player with room to grow, but if you’ve worked yourself into a corner where Larkin is a $6.1 million player for you, that says a lot more about the people who are still, inexplicably allowed to run this franchise.

Put another way: You don’t have to pay non-franchise players like they’re almost franchise players just because you don’t have anyone better than that. Unless you’re the Red Wings, I guess.

What We Learned: August roundup edition

I’d be real interested to see what Nick Schmaltz gets next summer if he has another 50-point season. Probably a lot. Chicago’s gonna have cap space to burn. …  Anyone expecting the Avs to take another step next season is basically saying they think Nathan MacKinnon and Co. can be as good or better than they were last year. I’m dubious. … Sure, it’s Tyler Seguin who’s under pressure with Dallas next season. Makes sense. … Folks, the only thing the NHL.com lists of the best players at every position are good for: Dunking on. Don’t get excited. …. Hmm seems like if you’re bad and not getting better, tanking is good. Interesting. … Oh yeah I definitely and for sure buy that they’re gonna get a good arena deal going in Ottawa. Yup. Very credible. … In what way is Jake Guentzel not a younger Chris Kunitz? This is a rhetorical question. Do not contact me about it. … Come on. … The Golden Knights are opening their own coffee shop outside their practice rink. This should count as hockey-related revenue.

Gold Star Award

Alexis Lafreniere? Seems like he’s gonna be good.

Minus of the Weekend

I have seen so many Canucks fans already getting their hopes up for Jack Hughes and it’s like… folks, please don’t do this to yourselves.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Halla” is here to help.

TOR: Subban
OTT: Nylander, Tor 1st, Nsh 1st
NSH: Karlsson

Signoff

Uh, the McDonalds restaurant. I’d never heard of it either but they have over 20,00 locations in this state alone.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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