With four days to go before the NHL draft and a week to go until free agency, it’s understandable that there are all kinds of names and teams and potential deals floating around. After all, nothing drives traffic like trade speculation and the thought of your team landing a big fish makes all of this talk rather exciting. We get it.
Which brings us to the case of Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who is very available and, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, has indicated that he would be amenable to waiving his no-move clause to go to one of the Vancouver Canucks or the Boston Bruins. OK, great. It’s just that I must have missed that moment when Ekman-Larsson became the second coming of Nicklas Lidstrom. Because the scenarios in either of those markets, and a lot of other ones in which there will likely be a flat cap for the next couple of seasons, don’t seem to make a lot of sense.
Let’s start with OEL, who is a very good, but not an elite defenseman who is 29 years old, is under contract for another seven years with an $8.25 million cap hit, was on pace for his worst offensive season in eight years and has never finished higher than seventh in voting for the Norris Trophy. Is Ekman-Larsson even a top-20 defenseman in the NHL right now? Well, the fact that he received zero top-five votes for the Norris in 2019-20 would suggest that he is not. And with a contract that takes him until he’s 36 years old, you could certainly suggest that he’s not going to get any better in the next seven years.
Analytics suggest that Ekman-Larsson isn’t that reliable defensively and that the quality of scoring chances against the Coyotes actually rose when he was on the ice. He shoots left, not right, so he’s a commodity that is fairly common. Yes, he creates offense, but a lot of guys in the NHL do that from the blueline these days. Ekman-Larsson who had saw his power-play time and production curtailed this past season, finished tied for 49th among defensemen in scoring. People talk about how fans in the east never see how good this guy is and that he’s underrated. Not sure how the player with the fifth-highest cap hit among NHL defensemen could be underrated, but all right. And for that kind of money and term, don’t you want somebody who’s a little better than underrated?
Unless you’re looking for a long-term replacement for Alex Edler on the left side, the Canucks don’t make a ton of sense. Quinn Hughes and Edler are already on the left side. They’ve got Tyler Myers on the right. Instead of devoting the kind of money and term to Ekman-Larsson, wouldn’t the Canucks be better off by simply re-signing Chris Tanev for a fraction of the price? The only way this trade makes sense from a Canucks perspective is if the Coyotes take on a portion of the cap hit for the rest of the deal or the Canucks can convince them to take Loui Eriksson’s contract off their hands. But the Coyotes aren’t exactly in a position to take on salary themselves because they’re up against the salary cap themselves. And presumably they’re doing this in order to recoup some of the draft picks they lost in the recruiting scandal. Well, the Canucks have neither a first- nor a second-round pick in this year’s draft.
The Bruins might make more sense as a destination for Ekman-Larsson, if only that he’d pretty seamlessly be able to replace the departed Torey Krug on the left side. But if you’re going to take on Ekman-Larsson’s deal, why wouldn’t you simply re-sign Krug, who is only three months older than Ekman-Larsson and brings much more to the table? And like the Canucks, the Bruins find themselves devoid of a first-round pick this year. And unless the Coyotes are willing to take on at least $2 million of Ekman-Larsson’s cap hit going forward, the Bruins don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, either.
From this perspective, there are just way too many red flags that come with dealing for Ekman-Larsson. Just because a player is available doesn’t necessarily mean you have to trade for him. These are the kinds of acquisitions that have the potential to have a ripple effect on a franchise for years.