There has been no shortage of headlines over the few weeks in the NHL, and the Vancouver Canucks were a major part of that. Last week, the Canucks sent forwards Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel along with the ninth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft (which became Dylan Guenther), a second-round pick (2022), and a seventh-round selection (2023) to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland.
While there is a fair share of criticism being aimed towards General Manager Jim Benning for taking on Ekman-Larsson’s contract with six years left on it, there are far more positives than negatives with it. With the Coyotes eating a percentage of Ekman-Larsson’s contract, taking on three expiring contracts from Vancouver, and the Canucks creating more cap room, this is a major win for Benning.
Getting Conner Garland and Much Needed Secondary Scoring
The big fish in this deal was the acquisition of winger Garland. After struggling mightily last year to find any secondary scoring, Vancouver now has a proven winger who will be a very welcome addition to the lineup in 2021-22.
Garland finished last year with 12 goals and 27 assists with the Coyotes, and whether he plays with Pettersson on the top unit or with Bo Horvat on the second line, both are great fits. Now that he is locked in after signing a five-year, $24.45 million deal, the Canucks can continue to focus on adding depth at both the forward and defensive positions.
Coyotes Taking Three Big Expiring Contracts
In order for a deal like this to happen, Arizona was going to have to take on some short-term money. They did just that, acquiring Beagle, Roussel and Eriksson. All have one year remaining on their current contracts, with cap hits at $3 million (Beagle and Roussel) and $6 million (Eriksson). Yes, they all had one year left, but Vancouver can’t wait a year due to the restricted free agents (RFAs) they need to lock up now in Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson (both still unsigned). It’s the cost Benning had to pay: create cap space now and worry about the large contracts later.
Even with the $7.26 million cap hit in Ekman-Larsson, that’s $4.74 million in cap space freed up while getting two solid NHL players who can make an impact in return.
Canucks Not Paying All of Ekman-Larsson’s Salary
The big knock on the deal that everybody seems to be focusing on is the Canucks taking on the remaining six years of Ekman-Larsson’s contract while sending three expiring deals the other way. What was shared after is that the Coyotes are retaining 12% of Ekman-Larsson’s $8.25 million, which will drop his cap hit with the Canucks to $7.26 million. While this isn’t a significant amount, it’s something. In a salary cap era, not to mention flat cap, every little bit goes a long way and makes the next six years a little easier to swallow.
What could also work out in the Canucks’ favour is that sometimes a change of scenery is exactly what a player needs, and that just might be the case for Ekman-Larrson. He’s spent his entire 11-year career in Arizona, and while there have been some highs, there have definitely been some lows.
Satiar Shah joined Sportsnet 650, Vancouver, and while discussing the transaction, he said it’s either going to go one way or the other.
Playing behind Hughes and possibly getting a solid defensive partner (Travis Hamonic re-signed to a two-year, $6 million extension) might just be the kick he needs to re-invigorate the 30-year old.
What’s Next for Vancouver?
With the Canucks placing center Jake Virtanen and goaltender Brayden Holtby on unconditional waivers for buyout purposes and trading defenseman Nate Schmidt to the Winnipeg Jets for a third-round pick, Vancouver is already finding ways to create even more cap space for themselves. This will alleviate some pressure and give Benning a little more wiggle room in order to sign Hughes and Pettersson.
No deal is perfect, and in order to get something, often times a team has to give something up in return. For Vancouver, taking on a few extra years of a big contract was worth it to free up cap space now, along with adding Garland for much-needed secondary scoring, was well worth it for the Canucks.
I’m a London, Ontario based broadcaster and sports writer for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve done work in the past reporting on the NHL, NBA and MLB. I’ve also covered the OHL including the Owen Sound Attack and am currently involved with the London Knights.