NHL All-Star Notebook: Where does Dylan Larkin stand with the Red Wings?

FORT LAUDERDALE — With Cameras rolling all around them and the Atlantic Ocean doing the same just a couple hundred metres or so behind them, the NHL’s brightest stars strolled out in their shorts and fancy t-shirts to talk about everything under the sun.

Yes, topics from the potential for new contracts to candle collections — Keith Yandle asked former teammate Kevin Hayes who has the best one he’s seen — were addressed on Thursday afternoon ahead of the NHL Skills Competition on Friday and the three-on-three games on Saturday.

It feels like baseball weather in South Florida, so let’s go around the bases and touch on some of the highlights after most of the players taking part in the weekend festivities came out and chatted with the media.

Dylan Larkin sees himself as a Red Wing…but there’s work to be done

Listening to Dylan Larkin speak, it’s clear the Detroit Red Wings captain is one of the more measured, thoughtful stars in the game. The pending unrestricted free agent was, predictably, asked about his contract situation and quickly said not everything that’s been circulating in public circles can be believed. Recently, the chatter has hinted at the notion the two sides might be at a bit of an impasse, but Larkin doesn’t make any bones about what his preference is.

“I’ve said it all along and I stand by it; I really see myself as a Red Wing,” he said. “There’s negotiation to be done and that’s about all I’ll say about that. This is my first time in this position as a [pending] UFA, but I doubt contracts ever go smoothly until they’re done.”

Larkin, who’s playing at a career-best 75-point pace, was honest about the fact it hasn’t always been easy playing for a team that’s done as much losing as Detroit has since he joined the league as a 19-year-old in 2015-16. That year, he played his first and only playoff games in the NHL.

“There’s been some very difficult days, difficult seasons and in those [bad] days there are times where [I think about how] I feel like I haven’t been able to play on a good team, which would also help me make [better] playing with other great players. With two young players, Lucas Raymond and Mo Seider coming in, it’s really brought a light to myself, to our team, to our fanbase. Those guys are very important. I look at our prospects and who we’ve drafted and I’m very excited about some of the guys we’ve drafted, some of the guys who have developed [but aren’t in the NHL yet]. I pay attention to that.”

Brock Nelson just met Bo Horvat, but he’s all in

Brock Nelson and a couple other Islanders were on vacation when they heard their team had just acquired one of the top centres on the market earlier this week. Nelson literally just met and spoke with Bo Horvat minutes before coming out to speak with the media, and he relayed what his message was for the former Vancouver Canucks captain.

“I was just quickly telling him how much he’s going to love it there and how much he’s going to mean to the team right away,” the Isles’ leading scorer said.

Horvat, of course, is still slated to suit up for the Pacific Division his former team plays in and Nelson put into words what more than one person has been wondering: “It’ll be interesting to see what kind of gear he’s wearing.”

A special weekend for Kevin Hayes

Kevin Hayes was cracking up right away when he came out to talk because the first person firing questions at him was retired-player-turned-media-guy Keith Yandle, his former Flyers teammate. There really was a question about candle collections (“It’s a tight race between myself and you,” Hayes said with a chuckle) and Yandle also said he was far more interested to know who the slowest skater was than the fastest.  

“Probably me, Matthew and Brady,” Hayes said of the Tkachuk brothers after Yandle informed him Matthew wanted the mantle as the most plodding guy.

Obviously vibes are never lighter than they are at the ASG, but there’s also a deep well of emotion under the surface for Hayes. His brother, former Panther, Bruin and Devil Jimmy Hayes, passed away in the summer of 2021 at the age of 31. Jimmy’s son, Beau, is just one of the family members Kevin, a first-time all-star, is surrounded by here and there’s no mistaking how much it all means to him.

“I was with Beau today, he’s excited,” Hayes said. “He doesn’t know all the players, but he knows a lot of them. It will be a cool moment for my family and myself. It’s probably the only thing my brother wanted me to accomplish in the last couple years and now it’s happening and I’m just really happy and lucky that his son, Beau, will be there with me.”

Goals are up and Pete DeBoer is here for it

After a question about the, uh, free-flowing nature of all-star games, Pete DeBoer said he and the members of his fraternity are always looking for a way to take the fun out of things.

“I think it’s in coaches’ DNA, we’ll try to coach the skill out of the game as much as we can,” he laughed.

Of course, not even Jacques Lemaire would attempt to squeeze goals out of an all-star game, but even when it comes to the real thing, DeBoer said he marvels at the turn the NHL game has taken as goal-scoring continues to spike.

“For me, power plays are a huge piece of it,” the first-year Dallas Stars coach said. “I am a believer in the line of thinking out there that we’ve got so much young talent on rosters now. You used to put out your third- and fourth-line checkers to lock down games as early as the second period if you had a head. And now you’ve got young, skilled players looking to score the entire game and that’s why you see the swings. I think it’s great though. It’s great for fans, great for people watching the game. No lead is safe.

Why are those PPs so good now?

“I just think it’s the skill and also, I’m going to give coaches some credit. When you have high-end skill like that and the analysis we have at our fingertips of analytics and where goals are being scored [from] and what teams’ strengths and weaknesses are — we get a book of that — I think coaches are taking advantage of that more than they ever have in the history of the game.”

DeBoer also indicated traditional positions are becoming a bit of an antiquated idea.

“Players now are interchangeable. Because your defencemen are active — I’ve always coached active defencemen — a forward has to fill and paly defence and forwards have to learn to do that. The players on the ice sheet are now way more interchangeable.”

Sid and Ovie: Still the guys the players love

Alex Ovechkin, the greybeard of this event making his eighth ASG appearance, talked about how Connor McDavid is just on another planet relative to everyone else in the league. That might be true of the guy who gets 150 points this year, but there’s still clearly such reverence among the players and coaches for Ovechkin himself and his — what, frenemy, now? — Sidney Crosby.

DeBoer gushed about what Crosby is doing in his 18th NHL season, noting the combination of skill, drive and leadership puts him in the upper, upper tier of not just hockey players, but pro athletes.

“That’s a category you’re talking Michael Jordan; people like that,” DeBoer said. “Rare.”

As for Ovie, Mitch Marner responded to a question about the possibility of No. 8 breaking Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record of 894.

“He’s got five years left on his contract, right?,” the Maple Leaf said with a laugh. (It’s three, actually). “How many goals does he need? It’s not that many, right? (82 to tie). I don’t see how he doesn’t catch him to be honest. What Ovie has done in his career with goal-scoring has been phenomenal to watch. That’s someone I get to hopefully meet this weekend, try to sit down with and enjoy a drink or two with.”


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