Rumors have been circulating over the past few days regarding a potential trade involving the Arizona Coyotes and their star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Despite his no-trade clause, discussions have been present throughout the hockey world pertaining to a trade due to a variety of reasons, and one of the teams being mentioned is the Edmonton Oilers.
As outlined by THW, there are serious doubts pertaining to the captain’s future in Arizona, especially with a new front office regime arriving, following former general manager John Chayka’s departure. Although his offensive production has dipped slightly in recent years, OEL remains an elite puck-moving defenceman who can still be a solid anchor and provide significant leadership on the back end for any team in the NHL.
Reasoning Behind Arizona Potentially Trading Ekman-Larsson
On its surface, these trade rumors may seem odd, as it’s not commonplace to see a team’s captain, one year into an eight-year contract, being associated with trade discussions and rumors. However, that eight-year deal mentioned is a contract that somewhat hamstrings the Coyotes franchise, as they have glaring needs offensively and have young defensive talent that could flourish and play increased minutes in the absence of a highly-paid defenseman such as Ekman-Larsson.
At $8.25 million annually, he accounts for a considerable amount of the cap on a team with a variety of players who seem to have the ability to take his position on the team in the near future, such as Jacob Chychrun and youngster Victor Soderstrom.
Another issue with Ekman-Larsson’s contract that may lead the Coyotes to pull the trigger on a trade is his age, as he will be 30 years old following next season. With a cap hit of $8.25 million until the age of 35, the Coyotes’ opportunities to maximize their return on a trade involving their captain may be dwindling, especially considering they haven’t been able to win a playoff series in eight years with him consistently in the lineup.
Of course, most of the Coyotes’ lack of success can be attributed to areas outside of Ekman-Larsson. However, it may be time to move in a different direction with a new general manager expected to be hired soon, younger talent both offensively and defensively, and possibly without Taylor Hall due to his impending free agency.
Finally, Chayka and Arizona’s front office left their cupboard of draft picks completely bare. Due to the Hall trade, the Coyotes will be without a first-round pick this year and either a second or third in next year’s draft. Furthermore, they violated the NHL’s scouting combine policies and were forced to forfeit a second-rounder this year and a first in 2021.
A trade involving Ekman-Larsson could be extremely beneficial in recovering some of their lost draft capital for the next couple of seasons, particularly due to their need for the continued development of young talent with the potential departure of Hall and potentially Phil Kessel soon after.
How Would the Oilers Make this Trade Work
Various media members involved with the Oilers have been broaching the name Ekman-Larsson, including Bob Stauffer. (from ‘Should Edmonton Oilers stick with Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse over expensive Ekman-Larsson?,’ Edmonton Journal, 09/11/2020). However, if this trade were to occur the Oilers would surely have to include Darnell Nurse in the trade, along with draft picks and a move to clear up some cap space. Although I believe this trade could potentially occur with the inclusion of Oscar Klefbom, it seems more likely that Nurse would be the defenseman involved.
The interesting note regarding this possible trade would be that the defensive pairing of Ekman-Larsson and Adam Larsson in Edmonton has already proven to be a quite good one due to their experience together with Team Sweden.
Potential Impact on the Edmonton Oilers
If this trade were to occur, the Oilers would be acquiring a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenceman who could anchor their powerplay and has become much improved defensively. Ekman-Larsson would be able to solve some of the issues the Oilers have had in getting consistent offensive production from their back end and could generate quality chances and move the puck more decisively in comparison to the current crop of Oilers defensemen.
Furthermore, the leadership and tangibles that are associated with a former captain and successful seasoned veteran for Edmonton’s younger defense core could be extremely advantageous to Edmonton. Although his stock has dropped in recent years, I still believe OEL is an elite, top-pairing defenseman on nearly every team in the league.
Despite all of that, the cons still vastly outweigh the pros in this situation. As described earlier, Ekman-Larsson’s contract is at an incredibly high annual cap hit and for an extended period of time (seven years remaining). Arizona is going to have serious trouble attempting to move his contract as time passes, especially with a no-trade clause where he essentially determines his trade destinations.
Why This Trade Should Not Happen
If the Oilers undertake this contract, which I would advise against, it will become virtually immovable down the road due to the $8.25 million cap hit until his age-35 season. With many believing OEL is already in decline, the last few years of his contract will be brutally difficult to manage and move on from.
Also, at this point in their careers, how much of a premium does Ekman-Larsson truly provide over Nurse or even Klefbom. Although there are numerous individuals that remain skeptical of these two defencemen, they have progressively improved in all aspects into very solid and respected players and are still relatively young.
Taking their respective cap hits, age, and level of play into consideration, I don’t see the value in moving Nurse for Ekman-Larsson, especially with the inclusion of picks and/or the movement of additional pieces. It seems virtually impossible that the Coyotes would just swap Ekman-Larsson for Nurse without receiving draft compensation given their current situation.
Therefore, it seems more beneficial to retain the 25-year old Nurse or 27-year old Klefbom due to their $5.6 million and $4.2 million cap hits, respectively. Also of importance, is the need for the Oilers to develop some younger talent to provide support offensively for their elite centers which requires draft capital, of course.
Finally, the Oilers have a platoon of young offensive defensemen and I don’t believe it is advantageous to trade for an asset who has been criticized for his lack of defensive presence at various times throughout his career. With a prospect and young player pool including defencemen such as Evan Bouchard, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, and their 2019 first-round pick Philip Broberg, Oliver Ekman-Larsson may hinder their ability to receive ice time and develop.
A few of these young defensemen listed above have struggled in the defensive zone and the addition of a primarily offensive defenceman, for most of his career, in Ekman-Larsson does not seem to be worth it.
Final Thoughts on OEL to the Oilers
In my opinion, the Oilers’ defence and their ability to move the puck and generate offensive chances from the back end have been subpar, but losing a player with the calibre and size of Nurse or Klefbom may not be beneficial. It seems that the Oilers are better suited to be making transactions for defencemen who would be younger and more cap-friendly or in other areas of play, such as in goaltending and improved scoring depth.
Rarely do situations involving aging defensemen with hefty cap hits actually work out for the team involved, unless they are in a win-now situation which, in my opinion, the Oilers are not. Although the addition of Ekman-Larsson should improve the team in the short-term, it is not a move I believe will completely change their fortunes or result in some major playoff success.
The loss of players and/or picks associated will result in a somewhat marginal upgrade in performance, in my opinion, but the contract, lack of cap space, and presence of a handful of young defense prospects will hamstring the Oilers in the long-term.