Adam Larsson has been a good Edmonton Oiler for a long time now. His type of player, as a hard hitting and intelligent defender whose first instinct is to prevent goals against rather than trading chances with opposing teams, is an important component of any championship roster. Edmonton should be looking to make several strong attempts at winning the Stanley Cup over the coming years and that suggests they’ll need depth on the back end to carry them through four marathon series.
There’s no sense at this point in going back and disputing the value of the trade that brought him in any further, but the question now confronting Oilers general manager Ken Holland is whether he will continue to bring value on a new deal. The price will be higher and, depending on the length of the deal, the player may decline over the contract term. So, should the Oilers sign Larsson to another contract?
There’s a Strategic Angle to Consider
Whether or not Larsson remains an Oiler over the coming seasons depends on a number of factors. The most unique of those is the addition, made official on April 30, of a 32nd NHL franchise, the Seattle Kraken. Many teams have structured contracts with their pending unrestricted free agents (UFA) so that they expire this summer, forcing the Kraken to decide if gambling on selecting a player in the Expansion Draft, who is not obligated to sign with them, is worth the bet. Larsson is one of these players, as is fellow Oiler Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and if Holland is confident that the Swedish defender wants to sign in Edmonton, he might just hold off on any extension until after July 1.
There are risks, and potentially costs, associated with such a strategy. Any player who reaches free agency owes it to themselves to test the waters, exploring the term and dollars available in other cities, and it could be that a rival general manager will make an offer the UFA player simply can’t resist.
Conversely, allowing his current team to benefit from his UFA status might be worth some dollar amount on a new deal with the Oilers as well. Larsson, at the right price, would be a great addition to any NHL club, and for certain clubs, could be the stabilizing top-4 defenseman that puts them into Stanley Cup contention. Losing him for nothing would be painful for the Oilers, but not unbearable, given the strong pipeline of defensive prospects in their system, so the risk might be worthwhile.
A Logjam of Defensemen in the System
The names are well known to Oiler fans: Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg, and others. All of these players could turn into legitimate top-4 defenders, and some of them have an even higher ceiling. We’ve seen the difficulty young prospects have forcing their way onto Dave Tippett’s roster this season, with the skilled but inexperienced Bouchard sitting unused on the taxi squad for significant stretches of time. That will only continue if Holland doesn’t move some of the older players along, forcing his coach’s hand.
It makes sense for a coach to go with the guys he trusts, especially in a shortened season such as this one, where every point is even more important than usual. However, there is a timeline where a team has complete control of their prospects, while they are both affordable and waiver exempt, and by choosing not to play youngsters for long stretches of time, Tippett sacrifices the opportunity to really judge their abilities, in favour of known commodities who they might otherwise push aside given the chance.
Age, Ability and Cost
The hard facts suggest that an NHL player peaks between 25 and 28 years of age. Adam Larsson was an Oiler throughout that period of his career, and a good one. The best NHL general managers don’t pay players for their past performances, but instead on an educated estimate of their future ones. Larsson isn’t going to fall off a cliff in terms of his play, but his foot speed, already a question mark, will likely decrease. He’ll turn 29 this November, and while he could certainly play for another five or 10 seasons, it’s likely that his value versus whatever contract he signs will be less when compared to the past several years in Edmonton.
The Oilers have a lot of cap space coming free this summer as the bad bets and buyouts from previous regimes finally come off the books. There certainly will be room to sign Larsson with some of those dollars but, with other players on the roster who are restricted or UFAs, it might not be the best use of that money. The team still has holes on the offensive side of the ice as well, potentially patched by offseason signings, which again will use up valuable and limited cap space.
Holland needs to decide if the team’s best chance at building a Stanley Cup roster during Connor McDavid’s prime years includes Larsson. The answer is far from clear either way, but that’s why he is one of the highest paid NHL general managers, and it’s time to prove his own value.
Canadian, Hockey Fan since birth, Husband, Father, and follower of all things Oilers and Kraken.