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Larkin happy to remain with hometown Wings for five more years

Young center's importance magnified with uncertainty surrounding Zetterberg

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- The hometown kid will be staying in Detroit for a while.

On Friday, the Red Wings announced that they had signed center Dylan Larkin to a five-year contract, meaning Larkin will remain a Wing until at least age 27.

"I feel pretty emotional right now about it," Larkin said on a conference call. "I don't know know if it's setting in or anything, but I got a lot of texts today and a lot of congratulations. I'm very proud to be from Waterford and be a local boy playing for the Red Wings and five more years, I think it's awesome, it's a great feeling. That sense of security, being home and I guess my parents, I think now they're starting to get sick of going to games. They said they would never be like that. It's special and it feels pretty cool."

Wings general manager Ken Holland said negotiations with Larkin's agents began in May and picked up in July, with the two sides talking several times a week until coming to this agreement.

The contract has an average annual value of $6.1 million.

Tweet from @CraigCustance: More details on Dylan Larkin contract. Breakdown by year:18-19: $1 million signing bonus. $5.75 million base19-20: $7 million base20-21: $4.75 million21-22: $6.75 million22-23: $5.25 million (no-trade clause)

"I think the contract we signed is a really good contract for Dylan and it's a really good contract for the Red Wings," Holland said. "He just turned 22, so he's a young player. He led our team in scoring. As Red Wings fans have watched him over the three years of his entry-level contract, I think he's made tremendous progress in learning to play a 200-foot game. His first year pro he played left wing with (Henrik) Zetterberg and had a real nice rookie year with 23 goals. The past two years we transitioned him from left wing to center ice, where there's more responsibility and he led our team in scoring last year and became way better defensively and played way more important minutes. At age 22, his best years are ahead of him. The last thing when you go into a negotiation is you know your player and Dylan brings a lot of determination and a lot of passion and he loves the game of hockey."

Keeping Larkin in Detroit for a longer period of time is even more important with the uncertainty surrounding Zetterberg, who turns 38 in October.

"I am anxious to know where Henrik Zetterberg is at," Holland said. "Certainly, he's a bit of an unknown in terms of health. He didn't practice basically the last 2-2 ½ months of the season, he just played games. I have talked to his agent a number of times over the course of the summer and I know he's had a tough summer, hasn't been able to train anywhere near close to what he's been able to train in past summers due to his back, so there's a real unknown right now with Henrik Zetterberg. I'm hoping that Z is good and we'll have to address that probably in September. I want to get to camp and see if Henrik Zetterberg is healthy. He's a real unknown."

Holland said that Zetterberg went to coach Jeff Blashill in early 2018 and said due to his back, which was surgically repaired four years ago, he would probably not be able to practice if he wanted to be able to play in games.

"He played the games and was able to keep him healthy enough to play all the games," Holland said. "That's a real unknown for us. I got to get to training camp and got to find out where he's at. I'm hoping he's going to play and if he's going to play we're probably going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of about $1 million (over the salary cap), give or take, depending on which players make the team, we're going to have to make some decisions at that point. It's nothing significant. It's a workable number. But I'm sitting here with an unknown and I want to have more information and then I'll deal with it in September."

Larkin acknowledged that losing Zetterberg would be a big blow to the Wings if it happens.

"He's got to look after his health and his future," Larkin said. "I know he's played through a lot of pain in his career and he's done so much for our team and city. But for our team, he's going to help our team no matter what, if he's playing with one leg or whatever. He's one of the most skilled players I've played with and a great leader. I think he's the best player on our team so I think it would definitely hurt losing him but he does have to look after his future."

Although just 22, Larkin has started to assume more of a mantle of leadership in the last year.

"I've been really fortunate to be around here a long time," Holland said. "The captains, I look at Zetterberg, (Nick) Lidstrom, (Steve) Yzerman, they really led by example. When it was time to say something they stood up and said what needed to be said but for the most part they led by example and earned the respect of their teammates with the way they played the game and the way they practiced and their determination and passion for the game of hockey and for their team.

"I think early in his career, Dylan shows a lot of those intangibles. I think he hates to lose. Everybody loves to win, Dylan really hates to lose. I think that's an important intangible. He's got a big motor and he's always coming every shift, and he's the same in practice. He's obviously a really important young player for our organization for a whole variety of reasons. That's one of the reasons."

This summer Larkin has helped Team USA win a bronze medal in the world championships in Denmark, run his own hockey school with his brother and cousins, participated in Dan Cleary's hockey school, traveled to Toronto for a skills development camp and spearheaded a charity game in honor of the late Jim Johannson, the former USA Hockey assistant executive director.

"As the three years have gone, I think I've learned a ton," Larkin said. "I think I'm a different person, I'm more mature. It's something that I've grown up and the leadership part, I think I've learned from some of the best leaders in the game in Henrik Zetterberg and Nik Kronwall, Pavel Datsyuk, Justin Abdelkader, Trevor Daley, these guys have groomed me into a position where I haven't had to be anything I'm not. I just try to be myself and work hard and play the game that I love. I'm really lucky that there's these guys around me that are such great leaders and such great people. It's easy just to be yourself and I think for me, it's natural in trying to do the right thing and work hard and show up and have as much fun as possible.

"I don't think I try to be anything I'm not but I think as this five years goes on and I'll be a Red Wing for eight years by the time this is done. I'm not looking that far ahead but I want to drive the bus and be that go-to guy that is a main cog that is going to turn us around and get us back in the playoffs and make noise in the playoffs and one day reach the ultimate goal."

Larkin becomes the final young player that the Wings have signed this summer, joining Tyler Bertuzzi, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou.

But at five years, Larkin got the longest term deal of the four.

"Dylan's resume is a little more accomplished and that's why we signed him to a longer-term contract with a bigger commitment," Holland said. "We're going to continue to try to get more young players on the team and the young ones here - Larkin, Bertuzzi, Mantha, Athanasiou - it's important they continue to take a step in their career. There's really good incentive and motivation for players that are on two-year deals. There's tremendous opportunity over the next year or two to establish yourself as an NHL player and be in a position that you can negotiate a longer deal like Dylan Larkin."

Both sides were happy that the negotiations did not take longer and linger into September.

Even though the deal is done, Larkin does not plan to take anything for granted.

"I think with this, there's definitely a pressure," Larkin said. "But I think it comes from within. I want to earn this and make the team proud. I want this to be something that they look back and they say that they made the right move to sign me to five years. There's a bit of pressure there but it's still the game that I love and I can't wait to start up. Now I want to win and get the fans back, make them happy and get back in the playoffs."

The mature-beyond-his-years Larkin didn't sound like he had any immediate plans to go crazy with his new contract.

"I don't know," Larkin said. "My parents, they just redid the Dungeon so maybe I'll get a house with an unfinished basement or something so I can shoot pucks down there."

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