Oilers Must Figure Out Cause of Larsson’s Sudden Departure to Kraken

It’s a deal that has rocked Edmonton Oilers fans. News leaked early Wednesday morning and by later that evening, the Seattle Kraken revealed the organization had signed defenseman Adam Larsson to a four-year contract extension worth $4 million per season. It’s a fair deal for Seattle and one the Oilers certainly would have signed with Larsson, if he wanted to.

Unfortunately for the Oilers, Larsson didn’t want to.

In all fairness to Larsson, this was his decision to make. He earned the right to talk to another team(s) as a pending UFA, he spoke with Seattle and ultimately decided it was a better fit for him than Edmonton. The question now is why? Why choose an expansion team over a playoff contender? Why elect not to test the full power of free agency and sign for a similar amount of money in an unfamiliar environment and on a team that may or may not be any good?

This Wasn’t About the Money For Larsson

Clearly, Larsson didn’t make this decision based on dollars and cents. Yes, there’s the reality that the tax-free nature of playing in Seattle would have its appeal. That’s a free house for a lot of NHL players over the course of four years. At the same time, if Larsson’s camp had come back to Edmonton and said, ‘They’re willing to give us $4 million times four years, can you do $4.2?” The Oilers probably would have said yes.

This was about something else. Larsson actively chose to leave a team where he was viewed as part of the leadership group. He chose to depart from an organization where he was going to be given a key role that would play to his strengths. He volunteered to move on despite the fact the Oilers had expressed interest in retaining him.

Related: Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Tracker

Do the Oilers Need to Know Why?

There could be plenty of reasons Larsson is making the move. It could be location, it could be family, it could be an issue with teammates, the fans, or the organization itself. It could be a number of things, many of which few may never fully understand. It will be up to Larsson to share that information, if he one day wants to.

For the Oilers as an organization, what is important is that they find out if this was avoidable. If so, it cannot happen again. At the very least, the team should move forward with a better understanding of what led to the position the Oilers are in today: a player they wanted to keep is gone, a deal they thought they had in the bag feel apart, and they have no one else like him on the roster to fill the hole Larsson is leaving behind.

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

Just like Duncan Keith coming in was all about being closer to his son, knowing why Larsson wanted to leave the Oilers and didn’t even fully test free agency is an important bit of knowledge for Ken Holland and the Oilers brass moving forward. If this was specifically about Seattle and wanting to play in that city, that’s one thing. But, if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed, the team needs to do so.

Related: Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Tracker

The Culture in Edmonton Important

One of the things the Oilers are trying to build is a culture of leadership and winning. It’s specifically one of the reasons Holland is so high on Keith — he brings more of that to the team. If Larsson didn’t leave because there was an issue, the Oilers can move forward confident in the fact there’s not much they could have done. If it was the weather, the city itself, no Oscar Klefbom or family-related concerns, the Oilers hands were tied. Those were factors beyond their control.

But, if there was a feeling Larsson wasn’t comfortable with his situation, that perhaps he wasn’t being respected or that there’s a locker room division of some kind, that’s an issue. Elliotte Friedman noted in an interview after the draft that there might have been a little bit of Larsson feeling disrespected by fans who criticized him and the one-for-one trade he was part of. If true, that’s not good.

Feedback and Reputation Matters in the NHL

As much as players have their own reasons for making personal decisions, the NHL community is still rather small. Word gets around and players know where they want to go and don’t want to go, often based upon the reputation an organization has earned from the players who went through the system in question before them. Whether it’s a fanbase that is too vocal and passionate, whether it’s small things the franchise could have done for players and their families, or whether it’s a desire to find the right pieces to promote consistent winning, that information travels fast.

This is not to suggest the Oilers have a problem. In fact, Edmonton could be doing everything just right and this was a particular set of circumstances for a player in a very unique situation. It’s just important the Oilers know.

When a player like Larsson leaves for the same money and doesn’t even test the full free agent market before deciding to do so, that’s potentially a telling sign some digging needs to be done. When a player walks away from a team he’s been through the hard times with and isn’t far from being a lot better and on a consistent level, a little self reflection can’t hurt this organization.