The Detroit Red Wings have signed forward Dylan Larkin to a five-year contract, the team announced Friday.
Reports indicate that Larkin’s contract features an average annual value of $6.1 million.
The 22-year-old was the last of Detroit’s restricted free agents for this summer. His contract lets the Red Wings look at what’s next, with goalie Jimmy Howard set for free agency next summer along with Gustav Nyquist, Thomas Vanek and Niklas Kronwall.
Larkin is an integral part of Detroit’s quest to turn into a younger, quicker hockey team. He led the Red Wings in scoring last season with 16 goals and 47 assists.
Larkin now carries the team’s highest cap hit, earning even more than Henrik Zetterberg. That’s to say nothing of the captain’s absurd contract, which is another subject altogether.
Detroit has a cluster of aging forwards and will have to ensure that players like Larkin can carve out space on the roster.
Zetterberg, Frans Nielsen, Vanek, Kronwall, Jonathan Ericcson, Trevor Daley, and Howard are all 34-years-old or older and under contract for a few more years respectively. When those deals turn around, there will be cash aplenty and the team better have a plan.
The signing of Larkin indicates such a plan, at least in part.
But the Red Wings have no cap space going into 2018-2019 and are over the salary cap by about $3.27 million. They’re allowed this levity during the off-season, but by the time the puck drops on the new season they’ll have to have this issue sorted.
And that means a trade could be in the wings, pun absolutely and shamelessly intended.
It also means that something could come out of the whole Zetterberg situation. The captain is a “maybe” for hockey next season, with the organization hoping he’ll play but general manager Ken Holland billing him as an “unknown.”
Where this puts the team with respect to the cap is up in the air. They’re taking the cap hit on Johan Franzen, who is still struggling mightily with concussion symptoms and will likely not return to the game.
Frankly, the situation for Detroit is a mess and there are few options when it comes to clearing up the money. The movable roster is old and the contracts are too large, but the Larkin signing is smart and at least epitomizes the future for the franchise when Zetterberg is gone and some other deals are at last off the books.
And in that context, it’s a start.