During the NHL’s All-Star Game on Saturday evening, Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings stated the following: “Playing with Mitch Marner is probably the highlight of my trip so far.”
Might This Comment Mean Anything?
That comment leads to speculation about whether a player (Larkin) might be sending a message regarding his desire to play on another team (the Toronto Maple Leafs) without breaking any league tampering rules. Could it be possible that he might be vaguely courting the Maple Leafs’ interest or just engaging in wishful thinking?
In this case, the speculation might be a little over the top. There most likely wasn’t anything more to Larkin’s comments than his expression of his enjoyment of playing amongst some of the best talents in the league.
Still, the Maple Leafs are rumored to be looking for a player to bolster their top six, and with all the different names being tossed around, Larkin has not been one of them. It did make us wonder though if acquiring Larkin might be possible, and if he would be a good fit for the Maple Leafs.
Who Is Larkin as a Player?
Larkin is a Red Wings’ hometown player, born in Waterford, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He was a first-round pick, drafted 15th overall by the Red Wings in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
After appearing in six playoff games for the Grand Rapid Griffins of the American Hockey League (AHL) in the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs and scoring three goals and two assists, Larkin started the next season with the Red Wings. He immediately made an impact, scoring 23 goals and adding 22 assists for a total of 45 points in 80 games.
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Larkin has had varying success in his NHL career. His best season was 2018-19 when he scored 32 goals and 73 points in 76 games. His worst was the pandemic shortened 2020-21 season when he scored nine goals and 23 points in 44 games.
Last season Larkin potted 31 goals and added 38 assists for 69 points in 71 games played. This season he is on pace to score 25 goals and 74 points. He is a left-hander and presently centers the Red Wings’ top line.
The Possibility of Acquiring Larkin
The Red Wings are in the process of rebuilding. They have recently drafted talented young players such as the 2022 Calder Trophy-winning defenseman Moritz Seider as the league’s top rookie, and forward Lucas Raymond, who finished fourth in Calder voting last season.
At the age of 26, Larkin is young enough to be considered a major cog in the Red Wings’ rebuild. And the team is not considered to be that far off of being a playoff contender. They were predicted to be one of the teams fighting for a spot in the playoffs by some prognosticators this season.
They presently sit six points out of a wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference standings with a game in hand over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who hold down the final spot. But, they also have five teams between them and that final playoff position. If the Red Wings can get on a roll and put some wins together they could make a run at the spot. They could also just as easily fall out of the race if they have a bad week or two.
The key point in Larkin’s availability is his contract situation. He is on an expiring five-year deal with a cap hit of $6.1 million. If the Red Wings were willing to retain 50 percent of what remained of his salary, the Maple Leafs could fit him under their salary cap.
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If the Red Wings were to fall out of the playoff hunt between now and the March 3 trade deadline, they could “loan” Larkin to the Maple Leafs. By that, we mean, deal Larkin to the Leafs for the remainder of this season and then re-sign him as an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in the offseason.
Larkin’s Fit With the Maple Leafs
Larkin is a goal scorer. As previously stated, he scored 31 goals last season and is on pace to score 25 this season. He is also a left-handed center. He could easily slide into the left-wing slot beside Tavares and Nylander or even play with Matthews and Marner.
Larkin could center the Tavares line, moving the left-handed Tavares over to the left wing if the Maple Leafs felt the speedier Larkin would be better suited at center. Larkin’s faceoff prowess is not quite at the same level as Tavares, but he’s still good. He is at 54 percent this season compared to Tavares’ 58 percent and is 51.7 percent in his career to Tavares’ 53 percent. It would give that line two good faceoff men if one should get tossed.
If the Maple Leafs decided to go with a top-nine, bottom-three setup, Larkin could center a third line of say, him, Alex Kerfoot, and Pierre Engvall, giving the Maple Leafs three lines that could potentially score.
While not an overly physical player, Larkin has averaged close to a hit a game in his career. He is a solid 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds and doesn’t shy away from physicality.
Larkin’s Cost to Obtain
If Larkin wants the deal to happen and wishes to join the Maple Leafs for a playoff run, we can’t see Red Wings general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman standing in his way. Yzerman was a player and is generally regarded as a player’s GM.
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The cost to “borrow” Larkin for the remainder of this season might not be that high. It would likely not be as high as acquiring a player who was leaving another team for good. It certainly would not be near the cost rumored to acquire Timo Meier from the San Jose Sharks.
At the high end, we think an even swap of Larkin for the Maple Leafs’ first-round pick would do the trick. At the low end, according to Puckpedia the Maple Leafs no longer have their own second, third, or fourth-round pick. The team does have the Ottawa Senators’ third-round pick, though.
Our pure speculation is that a third-round pick and a “B” prospect might do the trick. In the end, the Red Wings would likely still be retaining Larkin’s services in the long run while at the same time gaining a pick and/or young prospect in the short run.
Might an Off-the-Cuff Comment Mean Anything?
The premise of this whole post stems from an off-the-cuff comment made by Larkin at the All-Star Game. There is most likely no substance to it. However, we can’t know what was in Larkin’s mind at the time.
If Larkin is seriously interested in joining the Maple Leafs for a playoff run it could probably happen.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]