What are the Vancouver Canucks Getting in Oliver Ekman-Larsson?

Vancouver moved a couple contracts that have hurt the team for a few years, but if Oliver Ekman-Larsson's trajectory continues the way it is, his cap hit will be extremely troubling for the franchise.
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Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Whoa.

That's all Twitter could collectively say after the Vancouver Canucks sent Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussell and Loui Eriksson, the ninth-overall pick on Friday, a second-round pick in 2022 and an additional seventh-rounder in exchange for Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland.

Again, whoa.

Canucks fans had been hoping the team could finally find a way to dump the salaries of three players that truly never lived up to their ghastly contracts. It's a dream come true – to a point.

The issue? OEL.

Yes, the contracts for those three forwards have been ugly, but they're done at the end of the 2021-22 season. The Coyotes, a dumping ground of sorts the past two weeks, are taking on just over $11 million that'll be all gone a year from now. The Canucks? Ekman-Larsson's contract is $8.25 million for the next six years. The Coyotes will take on $1.2 million per year for the remainder of the deal, which helps, but the deal still isn't going to look that good down the line.

Ekman-Larsson is far from the player he used to be. At the time, OEL's deal made since, but it's like all hell broke lose two years later. According to a model by JFresh, a leader in advanced analytics and player modeling, Ekman-Larsson has a wins-above-replacement rating of just five percent out of a ranking of 100. That's usually reserved for some of the least effective players in the league.

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If you're not into those types of stats, or don't know what you're looking at, you're basically seeing a once-star defenseman on a hefty deal that's playing like he's at the end of his career. There was 130 defenseman that played at least 700 minutes at even strength last year, and Ekman-Larsson managed to finish at the absolute bottom in expected goals-for percentage at 41.1 percent. The Coyotes weren't a great team, of course, but he was dead last on his own team. A good defenseman on a bad team won't appear at the bottom, even if he's playing tough matchups.

The Coyotes haven't been a good team for nearly OEL's entire NHL career, and definitely didn't help pull up his performance. If the Canucks are to be a better team – a healthy Elias Pettersson and the addition of Garland should help, but Vancouver actually finished behind Arizona this past season – then maybe he can hide behind Quinn Hughes a bit. But the team already has a rocky contract in Tyler Myers, and Ekman-Larsson's play definitely hasn't trended in the right direction.

The Ekman-Larsson acquisition might not immediately kill the team right now, but it's not looking promising for the future. The trajectory isn't pretty, but maybe being in a team with some young talent and some promise – and a bit of mismanagement – OEL can find his own form in some way. He doesn't need to be the No. 1 guy like he was until Jakub Chychrun really exploded on the scene this year, so that might help, at least.

There are a couple of ways of looking at this. Who won the trade now? Vancouver shed some of its worst contracts and roster spaces for a solid forward and an NHL defender who could potentially improve this coming season. Long-term? The Canucks get a top 10 pick, extra cap space after a year and shed one of the worst contracts the team has ever had.

Can OEL be fixed? Maybe. Injuries have hampered his play the past few seasons. Maybe when he's healthy, he can really cement himself as a guy who can still run a power play and be productive. But Vancouver's defense isn't in a position to make a struggling blueliner better, and that's a tall tale with the cap he currently has.

You just don't typically find many guys jumping up performance-wise in their 30s after injuries. Maybe he does, and even with his poor performance, he's still the second best player in this trade at this point. But the cost, the dang cost. That's the issue here. Replacing a couple of bad contracts with another isn't a great solution.

In the end, GM Jim Benning's previous contract mistakes cost him a ninth-overall pick. Garland should be good, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson is far from the defenseman he once was. The 2021 draft isn't a great one, and the pick is worth a little less this year, but that's still a lost asset that could have gone a long way. If the Canucks can somehow move OEL's contract later on, even if it means retaining some heavy salary, then the potential of Garland being a consistent 20-25-goal guy makes the deal look much better on that fact alone.

Oh, by the way, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are RFAs this year and Brock Boeser is next summer. Check out Vancouver's cap hit and do the math.

Look. The Canucks got rid of a couple of pieces that didn't contribute much to the team and, at the very least, get the best player right now in the deal in the form of Garland, an RFA. There's a lot of hope for Garland to be a key contributor in Vancouver like he was in Arizona, albeit with lesser talent around him in the desert. Maybe he's the spark the team needs upfront.

Long story short? Vancouver got the better players, in theory, but the risk associated with Ekman-Larsson could really bit the team in the behind.

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