It's been a crazy 24 hours in Detroit.
First, less than 24 hours after the Red Wings signed Jake Walman, General Manager Steve Yzerman signed Captain Dylan Larkin to an eight-year, $8.7 million AAV contract worth almost $70 million.
Apparently, the embarrassing two-game trip in Ottawa did not convince Yzerman to throw in his cards, trade his prized center and kickstart rebuild 2.0. So the Wings were still aiming at the playoffs, still aiming to play the kind of important games Wings fans would tune into on television, or pay to watch at the LCA.
Except, the same day, Yzerman trades 25-year-old RHD Filip Hronek to Vancouver for draft picks and then, today, trades soon-to-be UFA Tyler Bertuzzi for draft picks.
So what's the deal here?
It's obvious that Yzerman decided the rebuild isn't complete. He wants more picks. More chances to draft the kind of game-changing forward capable of turning a team's fortunes around. Fair enough.
But then, why not trade Larkin? He was the one player capable of bringing the kind of return that increases your ability to land that prospect that changes a team's trajectory.
What would Larkin have shaken loose from an LA team that needs to win while Kopitar can still bring it? How about from Colorado before Mackinnon's contract goes nuclear? Or from a Carolina team that has the cap space to resign Larkin?
Byfield? Newhook? Byram? Jarvis? Along with the picks? Earlier, I floated the idea of Larkin and Bertuzzi for Jesper Kotkaniemi, Seth Jarvis, 1st, Trikozov and another prospect. Win-win. Carolina is set at center for this year and beyond. Detroit reloads with prospects and maybe gives Kotkaniemi the place to grow his already solid two-way game.
You'd be looking at something like this top 9 a few years down the road.
Importantly, had this trade been executed early enough, the Wings would likely have sunk like a stone in the standings, earning the Wings a ticket in the Bedard lottery - and the potential to draft one of the great centers available in the top 10 of this draft class.
Instead, with Larkin still on the team, the Wings are likely to finish around 20th-22nd and pick 12th-14th.
Bedard, of course, immediately changes the outlook of any team that drafts him. But even if you miss on Bedard - you've got Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlson, Will Smith, Salibor Dvorsky and Oliver Moore. It's perhaps the best draft for centers since 2017.
So what do we get by keeping Larkin on a very rich, very long contract?
What I fear is that Yzerman has set himself up for the kind of limbo that makes it very hard to ever rise to the upper echelon of the NHL.
This is the question. The Wings appear good enough to be a semi-competitive team. But do they want to be the team that finishes 17th? 18th?
If they never draft their Jack Hughes or Leon Draisaitl or Cale Makar, how will they move to the next level? It's pretty are for teams to reach that level, as Boston has, without those high picks.
Frankly, outside of perhaps Moritz Seider, it's a stretch to say that the Red Wings have any potential world-class players in their organization. There are no Fedorovs or Datsyuks or Yzermans or Zetterbergs in our system. Or, if there are, they haven't shown that potential.
So how does keeping Larkin help the Wings get world-class players?
Larkin, for three of the last five years, has topped out as a not-quite-point-per-game center who hustles, wins faceoffs and is on the ice for a ton of goals against. Chances are, he slips a little bit now that he's signed his contract. But there's no way that age won't soon start taking a toll on Larkin's calling card - his speed. So by 30, expect that .9 points-per-game to fall to .75. By 32, expect that to be more like .5.
In the modern NHL, you don't lock up 27-year-old not-quite 1Cs to eight-year deals unless you have to - unless failing to do so will jeopardize your shot at the cup. The Wings have no such aspirations.
So, something here doesn't quite add up from a team-building perspective. Yzerman isn't going for it. Nor is it totally rebuilding. There's room for nuance, fine. But there's also no clear decisiveness here.
So, perhaps it's not really about team building.
In his recent interview with Allen Walsh on the Agent Provocateur show, Yzerman was asked how he planned to address the trade deadline with the Wings' being so close, yet still perhaps not being quite ready to start spending future assets on veterans. Perhaps it was a tell when Yzerman's first response was to say that hockey was a business. That there are TV ratings concerns and gate receipts to think about.
Through that lens, the Larkin contract makes more sense. Trading your captain, your hometown-born top player while the team is a handful of points out of the playoffs might have been a customer relations disaster. A franchise that might need to start selling ads for its own TV service (if Bally Sports can't do it) might start to worry about lousy those TV ratings. Season ticket re-ups might start to fall as inflation-weary customers look to save money.
For the general fan - they can probably live without Tyler Bertuzzi and Filip Hronek. Trading them won't set off any alarms. But trading Larkin would have been a bitter pill - even if was the smart thing to do.
I think last year's UFA spree was a hint that ownership has directed Yzerman to ramp up the rebuild and start winning. Signing Andrew Copp and Ben Chiarot was expected. You had to get a few veterans to help out. But David Perron and Dominik Kubalik, too? Didn't we have wingers (Soderblom, Berggren, Zadina) ready for those roles?
In that sense, I wonder if ownership may have short-circuited the so-called "Yzerplan."