Some of Lou Lamoriello’s first comments on the eight-year contract Bo Horvat signed Sunday — reportedly worth $8.5 million a year — were very telling: “It’s too long, and it’s too much money,” Lamoriello told reporters.
Welcome to the world of position contracts in 2023 – and for Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings, we welcome another important data point in the Dylan Larkin negotiations.
Funny enough, Lamoriello is the same general manager who signed another similar Larkin’s last when he gave Matthew Barzal an eight-year deal at $9.15 million a year in October. And although the circumstances of Horvat’s contract are slightly different (the Islanders had just made a big trade to add Horvat), it does bear weight on what were slower-than-expected negotiations between Detroit and its captain.
With only five months until his contract expires — and a few weeks before the March 3 NHL trade deadline — the Red Wings and Larkin haven’t agreed to an extension and don’t look close. It’s been a grinding operation for a deal expected to fetch between $8 and $9 million a year — a relatively narrow range in the grand scheme of things, but a deal with real stakes on both sides.
Horvat’s deal lands in the middle of that range, then immediately jumps out. Horvat is in the midst of a well-timed career year, but this deal—plus Lamoriello’s apparent hiatus even as he signed it—reflects a fundamentally changed central market from years past. This was evident in the number of young centers approaching (and exceeding) $8 million as restricted free agents, and it is even more evident in the average annual value (AAV) veterans of (or before) unrestricted free agency.
Honestly, it’s easy to understand why some general managers are concerned about that — the salary cap has made every dollar paramount to teams, and the NHL has been a constant for years. The cap is expected to rise significantly in coming seasons, which will likely contribute to those contract numbers soaring, but the directors could be forgiven for being a little timid after the past few years of stagnation.
The fact that Lamoriello signed that Horvat contract anyway—despite the belief that it was too long, too much money—tells us about the reality of the market: If you don’t pay it, all the latest indications are that someone else will. .
The team announced that the islanders and striker Bo Horvat had agreed terms of an eight-year extension.
Horvat accumulated 54 points in 49 games with the Canucks this season before he was traded to the Islanders on January 30.https://t.co/mBFQZXNlYE
– NHL Sports Association (TheAthleticNHL) February 5, 2023
In summary, should he re-sign Horvat for $8.5 million, Larkin’s value is higher than that figure. While Horvat is having a standout year at the podium, paced for a 50-goal season, his average points per game (. 68) is lower than Larkin’s (. 73). Horvat’s scoring average is slightly higher (. 32 to . 29) which is important in contract talks, but Larkin is also considered the best defensive player.
They’re all not too far off, but Larkin’s general bio is a bit stronger, and he’s a year younger. If this is an arbitration case, then, Larkin is expected to land somewhere above $8.5 million from Horvat.
But this deal will not be decided in arbitration. And while Lamoriello saw a deal he wasn’t comfortable with and decided he should sign it anyway, Yzerman may decide otherwise.
He seemed willing to do so in 2016, for example, when his Tampa Bay captain, Stephen Stamkos, waited until Stamkos signed an eight-year, $68 million deal just days before free agency. By the way, the AAV is identical to the new Horvat brand — a clear look at how the central market has evolved in that seven-year period.
In 2018, a few months before Yzerman left the Lightning to become the GM of the Red Wings, Stamkos told me that part of the culture created at Yzerman in Tampa centered around the idea that “if you want to keep a good team together, players are going to have to make a few sacrifices.” All the way, whether it’s in terms of money or duration or ice time or role on the team. That was something — it’s kind of a non-negotiable thing about this team, in terms of doing whatever it takes to help us keep the core together and continue to be productive team.
The two situations aren’t a perfect overlap — the Lightning were coming off consecutive deep playoff runs at the time of Stamkos’ negotiations, for example, while the Red Wings haven’t made the playoffs since 2016. But if you’re trying to make sense of the stalling in the Larkin negotiations, the words offer Stamkus for nearly five years provides insight into GM’s approach to Detroit.
Perhaps “non-negotiable” is not meant to be taken in full Literally in actual negotiations — but if Yzerman really has a line in the sand, towards the low end of the $8 million range, maybe it’s that simple for him.
The Red Wings can offer Larkin an eighth year that no other team can offer in free agency – and that has real value that should not be underestimated. Even a seven-year deal matching Barzal’s $9.15 million AAV value on the open market would only equate to $8 million a year on an eight-year contract in Detroit – Barzal and Horvat notwithstanding an act Get eight-year terms on those deals.
Other than that, the main influence for Detroit is Larkin Wants To be the Red Wing, which he made clear in every public comment about the talks. And while Yzerman hasn’t taken questions from the media this season, it’s fair to think he wants the same thing – even by the fact that he didn’t trade Larkin before the full no-trade clause kicked in this summer.
But as the clock ticks, with another similar one now in existence, the questions are very simple. It appears that Detroit is only functionally asking Larkin How bad wants to stay. They must also ask themselves what they would do without it.
The Red Wings will save some cap space by allowing Larkin to walk as a free agent, and he can certainly be compensated some Value in the Trade – If Larkin is willing to give up one of his best bargaining chips and concede the no-trade clause. But either way, Detroit has yet to replace it with a central market that’s clearly way beyond its comfort zone.
Lamoriello looked at a similar situation on Sunday and decided to sign on the dotted line.
Yzerman might be more willing to take over—the potential consequences be damned—just as he has been in the past.
In that sense, while the Horvat deal certainly provides a great new data point, the question for Larkin and the Red Wings is the same as ever: Who is most poised to move?
(Top photo by Dylan Larkin: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)