First, I have to say how much I like Oliver Ekman-Larsson as a player. In fact, for my money, I think he’s the best defenseman in the NHL. Name any defenseman – Ekman-Larsson is better. Even better than Alex Pietrangelo. So say I.
I also love the way he worked through the trade. He drew a line in the sand – do a deal by Friday or I’m staying where I am. That deadline has passed and he wasn’t traded. So, he remains an Arizona Coyote. I suppose he could change his mind, but as of this moment, any trade is off the table.
How Ekman-Larsson handled the situation suggested that (a) he liked living and playing in the Phoenix area and (b) he thought he was in control of the situation – and he was.
What Was the Line in the Sand?
Through his agent, Ekman-Larsson made a statement that he’d “only allow” a trade to happen if it’s conducted by Friday. He also said the only teams he’d go to were the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks. That speaks volumes for both those franchises and shows that at least one quality player believes those teams can be players in the upcoming seasons.
Ekman-Larsson was reported to have been asked by the Arizona Coyotes to expand the list of teams he’d allow himself to be traded to; but, he said no. So only Boston and Vancouver are left as trade options. When the Coyotes signed him, they granted him a full “no-movement clause.” As a result, he can pretty much name where he wants to go.
Kevin Epp, Ekman-Larsson’s agent, announced that “We think the best option for a trade is before free agency. If no deal by Friday, Oliver is staying in Arizona.”
Tough Luck for Arizona
In some ways, I feel bad for Arizona. They’ve struggled in the Phoenix market for many seasons now – although they’ve had some quality teams. When they signed Ekman-Larsson to an eight-year, $66 million contract the organization could not have predicted the pandemic that we all face. Even at the best of times, there wasn’t a lot of money in Arizona; and, now isn’t the best of times.
The franchise is hurting and needs to move salary to survive. Although only one year of Ekman-Larsson’s contract is complete, Arizona wants a change. Better said, they need a change.
What Does This Show From the Vancouver Canucks’ Perspective?
Ekman-Larsson has an expensive contract at $8.25 million; however, given his term (he’s signed for seven more years) Canucks general manager Jim Benning knew exactly what trading for Ekman-Larsson would cost the team over the near future. He was willing to clear salary-cap space for such a move.
Benning actions about who he qualified and who he did not suggest that his plan is to point fully at a Stanley Cup victory over the next few seasons. And, you have to know he saw that task as easier if Ekman-Larsson was a piece of the team’s roster.
Assuming the pandemic subsides in a year from now, Benning could have carried that salary for the next seven seasons. One of these days soon, another young defenseman Quinn Hughes will also be making that kind of money. That’s what it’s likely going to cost for a top-pairing defenseman when the NHL gets back to normalcy.
In fact, sadly from my perspective, if Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher had to be sacrificed for Ekman-Larsson, so be it. Jordie Benn and Alexander Edler have contracts that expire after next season. It would be a shame to see Edler leave (he’d retire, I’d guess), but he might just become a coach anyway. He’ll stay in Vancouver.
Benning Was Willing to Bet the Bank on a Stanley Cup
From what it looked like from the outside, Benning’s actions suggested he would be willing to bet the bank that his team could build next season’s defense around the young star Hughes, the reliable top-pairing veteran Ekman-Larsson, the size of Tyler Myers, and the steadiness of Benn and Edler.
You also had to believe Benning has a sense that the Canucks could build from the team’s power-play success last season and have – without equal – the top power-play unit in the NHL with the two quarterbacks of Ekman-Larsson and Hughes. Alas, it isn’t to be. But Canucks fans learned something.
Can this Trade Be Revived?
Benning’s endgame is at least one more year in the making. The team cannot clear salary-cap space fully until the contracts of Brandon Sutter (one more year) and Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, and Antoine Roussel (two more years) expire. The cap space is coming, but it’s certainly not here yet.
In the meantime, Benning was willing to lose both Tanev and Stecher to free agency, and these players have been solid team-guys. But that loss simply was a hint to Canucks fans that Benning is more than willing to do what it takes to go all-in for a Stanley Cup. He can taste it!
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