On Wednesday morning, Oil Country woke up to the stunning news that the Edmonton Oilers’ unrestricted free agent alternate captain Adam Larsson had signed a four-year deal worth $16 million with the Seattle Kraken. The 28-year-old defenceman’s sudden exit was a poetic bookend to his five years in Edmonton, which began in equally shocking fashion, on June 29, 2016, when he was dealt to the Oilers by the New Jersey Devils for star forward Taylor Hall.
Fans weren’t happy when Larsson arrived. Many felt the return wasn’t fair value for the popular Hall, but now they’re unhappy to see the Swedish blueliner depart, recognizing the huge void he leaves on the Oilers’ backend. Larsson’s time in Edmonton lasted exactly 264 weeks, a period of personal ups and downs, team highs and lows, but ultimately growth and evolvement. Here’s a look back at five seasons wearing orange and blue.
Acquiring Larsson was intended to address a glaring defensive need on a team that had just missed the playoffs for a 10th straight season. Larsson, then 23, had averaged 22:31 of ice time and led New Jersey in plus-minus with a plus-15 in 2015-16.
“He’s not a sexy defenceman,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said at the time of the trade. “He’s not in the spotlight. He probably doesn’t deserve to be in the spotlight. I can assure you, this last year, he has come into his own. He’s becoming a very good defenceman in this league. He moves the puck, defends well, he can log a lot of minutes — 25, 27, 28 minutes — he can match up against all the top forwards. He’s a player I watched very closely, and I can see his game trending up.”
Larsson won the Top First Year Oiler award in 2016-17 and helped the team emerge from a decade of darkness to reach the postseason for the first time since 2006. In 79 regular-season games, he had 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) and ranked second on the team behind Connor McDavid with a plus-21. He also ranked sixth in the league and fourth among defensemen with 253 hits.
Larsson was a force in the 2017 Playoffs, notching six points in 13 games while playing a team-high 23:43 per game as Edmonton defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-2 in the first round before losing to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of the Western Conference semi-finals. He scored two goals, including the game-winner in Game 1 against the Ducks.
On Feb. 1, Larsson’s father passed away suddenly at age 50 after suffering a heart attack while in Edmonton visiting. Larsson spent some time away from the team and played only 63 games that season but still managed to rank sixth in the NHL and third among blueliners with 239 hits. He scored four goals and nine assists and tied for third on the team with a plus-10 rating. At season’s end, he received the team’s Unsung Hero Award.
While the Oilers missed the playoffs, Larsson headed to Denmark for the 2018 IIHF World Championship and helped Team Sweden capture the gold medal.
Edmonton’s struggles continued in 2018-19. The Oilers finished with the fourth-fewest points in the NHL, while Larsson played in all 82 games, recording three goals and 17 assists but ranked second among NHL defensemen with a career-high 256 hits. He was a minus-28, however, while no other Oilers player recorded a plus/minus worse than minus-14.
The Oilers again missed the postseason while Larsson suited up for his country at the 2019 World Championship in Slovakia, where Team Sweden lost in the quarterfinal.
Larsson fractured his right fibula in the opening game of the 2019-20 season and was sidelined for seven weeks. He suited up for 49 games that season as the Oilers ranked second in the Pacific Division when the regular season was brought to an early end in March because of the global pandemic. Larsson had one goal and five assists and posted an even plus/minus while averaging 19:50 of ice time, his first time logging fewer than 20 minutes per game as an Oiler.
When the postseason began in August, the Oilers were upset by the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1 in the qualifying round. Larsson missed the last two games of the series after being ruled unfit to play.
In his fourth season as an alternate captain, Larsson became Edmonton’s premier shutdown defenceman in 2020-21, playing all 56 regular-season games of the shortened season. Finishing second in the North Division, the Oilers were one of the surprise success stories, and a large part of that was the team’s improved defensive play, especially Larsson. The team allowed 0.31 fewer goals against than they had in 2019-20 with the same goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen.
Larsson was second in the NHL with 128 blocks, and his 166 hits ranked fifth among defensemen. He scored four goals and six assists.
Edmonton crashed out of the playoffs after being swept by the Winnipeg Jets in the first round. Larsson was third on the team with two assists but tied for a team-worst minus-4.
It seemed a foregone conclusion that Larsson would remain in Edmonton. In early May, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Larsson and the Oilers had made good progress on negotiating a contract extension for likely four years. Postmedia’s Jim Matheson reported that the deal would be for four years at an average of $3.75 million per season.
However, a deal was not reached before Seattle was given 72 hours of exclusive negotiating rights with all UFAs in advance of the expansion draft on July 21. That day, the Kraken announced they had signed Larsson. In addressing the media on Thursday (July 22), general manager Ken Holland said the Oilers had multiple offers on the table for Larsson.
Eventually, Larsson’s camp said they wanted to shut down negotiations and take some time to determine what Larsson himself wanted to do. Both sides agreed that Larsson should check out the market, but Holland was hopeful the veteran rearguard would decide to re-sign in Edmonton. Holland said he woke up to a text that Larsson had agreed to a deal with Seattle.
Larsson concludes his tenure with the Oilers having played 329 regular-season games and 19 playoff games. Despite his sudden and disappointing departure, he’s earned the respect of many Edmonton fans.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.