Oilers’ Ceci Provides Silver Lining in Losing Larsson

After missing the playoffs for the ninth straight year after the 2015-16 season, it was no surprise that the Edmonton Oilers were shopping for a number one defenseman, and the rumours circulating was that their former first-overall pick, Taylor Hall, would be the trade chip to land the big piece. On June 29, 2016, the deal was made, and the Oilers traded star forward Hall, for Adam Larsson.

When the “Hall for Larsson” news broke, fans flocked to social media to see what the New Jersey Devils were adding to the deal. In the end, it turned out to be straight up one-for-one. Then general manager Peter Chiarelli was heavily criticized at the time— he’d traded a legitimate first-line star for a player that may not have even been a number one defenseman on their own team.

Larsson may not have been the stud defender the team highly sought, but he settled into a steady player in his five seasons with the club. He’d play in 347 games, registered 68 points and 192 penalty minutes, but more importantly, brought an in-your-face style of hockey the team had missed on the blue line since former Oiler captain Jason Smith. However, his time with the Oilers came to an end on July 21, 2021, when he signed with the Seattle Kraken.

Larsson Left the Oilers Due to Personal Reasons

In his five-year tenure with the club, he became an alternate captain, a leader, and a mainstay on the Oilers defensive unit. In his first year, he was instrumental in helping the team reach the playoffs for the first time in nearly 10 years. His hard-nosed style was welcomed on a team full of young and skilled players. Last season, the Swedish defenseman was steady all year in his shutdown role. In the shortened 56 game season, he produced four goals and five assists, while leading the team in blocked shots with 128 (second-most in the NHL) and delivering 156 hits.

Edmonton Oilers Adam Larsson
Edmonton Oilers’ Adam Larsson (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

After one of the most successful seasons of his career, he entered unrestricted free agency and early signs indicated that Larsson would re-sign with Edmonton. However, the Swedish defenseman had other ideas and news broke that he signed a four-year deal worth $16 million with the Seattle Kraken. Initially, it felt like a punch to the gut as the defensive defenseman was considered a member of the team’s core. Yet, it’s important to remember that no matter how much success a player can have — no one truly knows what’s going on inside — except for the player themselves.

When the dust had settled, he later explained that his departure was due to the painful memory of his father’s passing in Edmonton, when he was visiting from Sweden in February 2018. He stated “I feel like I had to do it (leave) for my personal well-being. I felt there was nowhere else to get a fresh start”(from “Oilers Notes: Adam Larsson Left Oilers For Family Reasons,” Edmonton Sun, 09/28/21).

The Oilers Found a Replacement For Larsson

With the Swedish defender departing, it left a glaring hole on the Oilers’ right-side defensive unit. General manager Ken Holland acted quickly to find Larsson’s replacement and signed Cody Ceci to a four-year deal with an AAV of $3.25 million, but it came with mixed emotions.

The signing caused polarizing reactions due to his previous play— he was wasn’t good enough defensively for the Toronto Maple Leafs; however, he exceeded expectations and turned into a stable second-pairing defender for the Pittsburgh Penguins a year later. TSN analyst Ray Ferraro had said of the signing at the time, “I want bigger defenders that are able to stop a cycle, that you don’t spend half a day in your zone chasing the puck around. You need to have guys that step into the cycle that can break it up”(from “Plenty of Questions as D-man Cody Ceci Signs Four-year Deal in Edmonton at $3.25 Million Per Year,” Edmonton Sun, 07/28/21).

The Silver Lining With Larsson’s Departure

As Larsson’s replacement, Ceci has been a stable addition to the team’s top four. In 20 games he’s scored a goal and added five assists. He’s also second among defensemen in hits (28) behind only Darnell Nurse, third on the team in blocked shots (28) and averages the third-most ice time in penalty killing minutes per game (2:08). He started the year on the second pairing with Duncan Keith — they weren’t perfect, as the analytics community could attest to, but they were effective in their role. When No. 2 went down with an injury against the Dallas Stars, Ceci paired up with rookie Philip Broberg and saw a two-minute increase in ice time from his average of 20:09 time on ice (TOI).

With all the injuries on the Oilers’ blue line, Ceci has stepped up as a leader and mentor for the young players on the backend. While he doesn’t deliver punishing hits in the same method as the rugged Swedish defenseman, he doesn’t shy away from physicality and uses a combination of positioning and good stickwork to break up the cycle. Furthermore, Larsson had a tendency to shoot the puck “off-the-glass-and-out” when he was under pressure. On a team like the Oilers that thrive on transition and generate chances off the rush, Ceci’s ability to find the open man and make the simple, and smart breakout pass has been a welcome addition.

Related: Keith and Ceci Proving to Be Effective in Thankless Role for Oilers

Although the departure of Larsson was initially a shock to the system, the player is in a better spot mentally in his new chapter in life. At the same time, the Oilers replaced him with a sound defenseman with the ability to defend and make smart passes, while saving $750,000 per year. At the time of writing, Ceci is currently sidelined as he’s been placed in COVID protocol. While he’s expected to miss up to two weeks, the team will miss his presence on the backend, but in his absence, they have recalled Markus Niemelainen from the Bakersfield Condors.

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