Oilers Face Big Decision With Larsson at Season’s End

Adam Larsson’s stint with the Edmonton Oilers’ organization has been a rollercoaster. People are quick to judge the blueliner because of his price tag, acquired in a straight swap for Taylor Hall. He is now in his fifth season with the club and has seen the team’s culture shift drastically in that time. Despite the backlash from the trade, Larsson has held up his end of the bargain and rewarded the Oilers with his solid play that is quiet and often goes unnoticed, which is usually when he’s performing at his best.

Career With the New Jersey Devils

Larsson was selected fourth overall in 2011 by the New Jersey Devils, the same year the Oilers drafted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall. He played for the Devils for five seasons, including a full season in his rookie campaign. He split time between the AHL and NHL for the next three seasons before playing all 82 games in his fifth and final season with the club.

Adam Larsson, former New Jersey Devil (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

During the 2014-15 season, Larsson recorded career-highs in assists with 21 and points with 24 in 64 games played. He has yet to surpass those totals even in his tenth season in the league. However, he has become a stable and defensively responsible blueliner who can play in all situations and eat minutes on the backend.

The Swap

We won’t dive too deep into who won the trade, but the hockey world was shaken when the Oilers sent Hall (the former first-overall pick in 2010) to the Devils for Larsson in the summer of 2016. At the time, Edmonton needed to find a right-handed blueliner who had the potential to become a number one, and they had a surplus of offensive talent with Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle also on the roster.

It is clear now that Larsson is not the number one defenseman former general manager Peter Chiarelli thought he was getting when he pulled the trigger on that deal. That being said, Larsson became a durable and stable player for the team. Even though Hall won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player in 2018, he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes in his fourth season with the Devils and the final year of his contract in 2019.

Career With the Oilers

Larsson has been an integral part of the Oilers during his tenure with the club. He has provided the team with a strong and accountable player who has helped mentor their young blueliners.

Related: Oilers Have Options to Replace Nugent-Hopkins in Free Agency

He can play up and down the lineup; he is key to the penalty kill and brings size and grit. In his last four seasons, he has had a plus rating at the end of the season and appeared in 273 games, producing 12 goals and 49 assists.

The Swede has been part of two playoff appearances, although their 2020 postseason run ended in a first-round exit. With the emergence of players like Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear who can handle a bigger workload, Larsson has seen his role slowly diminish over the last few seasons. With prospects like Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg on the rise, it may not be long before they assert themselves enough to take more minutes away from Larsson.

Factors Affecting Contract Negotiations

Larsson is in the final year of a six-year deal worth $25 million signed with the Devils in 2015. It’s a team-friendly contract, given his production, with an average annual value worth roughly $4.2 million per year. The fact that he is a right-shot, top-four defenseman could increase his value on the open market, and he could receive a good chunk of change in free agency.

Related: Oilers Getting Big Offensive Contributions From Blue Line

The development of the team’s prospects will have a lot to do with GM Ken Holland’s decision on Larsson after this season. Bouchard has already seen his responsibilities increase this season, and it will likely continue to go up as the season rolls on.

Evan Bouchard Oilers
Edmonton Oilers selected Evan Bouchard with the 10th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The other things that will affect Holland’s decision are the upcoming Nugent-Hopkins negotiations and the goaltending situation. Goaltending should be a top priority. They need to ensure that they have the cap space to shore up stronger goltender before they address their big-name unrestricted free agents.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is on the final year of a seven year deal worth $6,000,000 million per year. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Despite the Oilers’ struggles to put together a capable defense corps, they have done a good job to fix the issue recently. Larsson is likely the third or fourth on Holland’s priority list heading into the offseason because the team has Klefbom, Nurse, and Bear as their top three for next season. Add in Kris Russell, Bouchard, Caleb Jones, and William Lagesson, who are all under contract next season, and the team has most of their defense core set for the 2021-22 season.

Projected Oilers Defense for the 2021-22 Season Not Including Pending Free Agents/Offseason Aqcuisitions

Left DefenseRight Defense
Darnell NurseEthan Bear
Oscar KlefbomEvan Bouchard
Caleb Jones/
William Lagesson
Kris Russell

Even without Tyson Barrie or Larsson, the Oilers’ blue line has the potential to be very good before they add players via the free-agent market. The table above also does not include the Oilers’ eighth-overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft, Philip Broberg. This leaves Larsson as more of a luxury than a necessity, especially as the fourth to sixth defenseman, a role that could be filled by a player with a lower cap hit in free agency.

Future in Oil Country

Larsson has been a great asset to the organization, but at the end of the day, hockey is a business and a results-based one at that. The business side of the game has put Larsson’s future with the team in question. With other positions and players higher up on management’s priority list, expect Larsson and the Oilers to part ways this offseason unless he is willing to take less money to remain in Edmonton.

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