TORONTO – More than a week deep into August, the Detroit Red Wings’ greatest off-season priority remains the club’s last bit of unfinished business.
Training camp is roughly a month away, and Dylan Larkin — Detroit’s best and most important player — still does not have a job in place for the 2018-19 season.
“Something’s coming,” Larkin promised Tuesday afternoon, following an intense skills-training session alongside Connor McDavid and other NHLers at the Power Edge Pro camp in Toronto.
“I’ve told everyone I think it’ll be before training camp. It’s right there. I’m just waiting to iron out the details.”
The 22-year-old Larkin made a smooth shift from wing to centre last season, leading all teammates in scoring (63 points) while embracing a penalty-killing role and improving his defensive game. With captain Henrik Zetterberg turning 38 in early October and back issues putting the long-serving star’s availability in doubt, Larkin is the undisputed franchise centre of the present and future.
GM Ken Holland would prefer to lock Larkin up for the next five or six seasons, but he’s under a salary-cap crunch.
“That’s a pretty good honour — they’re showing a long-term commitment to you — but there are different offers out there, whether it’s a short-term bridge deal or a long-term deal,” Larkin said.
“Now we’re just trying to figure out what’s going to be best for both our futures.”
There’s a significant obstacle to overcome here. After singing a slew of free agents — UFAs Thomas Vanek, Mike Green and Jonathan Bernier, plus RFAs Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha — the Wings have just $2.83 million in projected cap space, according to capfriendly.com. That’s not enough for Larkin, who’s looking for a massive raise from the $925,000 he earned in the final year of his entry-level deal. He does not yet have arbitration rights.
Holland wants to avoid an issue like the one he ran into with Athanasiou last fall. In that instance, his unsigned RFA did not report to camp and a deal wasn’t agreed to until late October. Athanasiou missed the first 10 games of the season.
Detroit can ill afford a similar case with Larkin, who has lofty expectations for one of the Atlantic Division’s underdogs.
“Make some noise in the playoffs,” said Larkin, when asked what would constitute a successful season in Motown.
“As a young group of players, we need that playoff experience where we get in a series and we’re grinding it out against one of our rivals in the Atlantic and anything can happen. We need to put it together for 82 games. We need to get hot off the start. I think we can make some noise in the playoffs.”
But first? A contract.