After letting him sit with the offer for a while, the Arizona Coyotes have finally agreed to terms with superstar defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. According to Darren Dreger of TSN, the contract is for eight years with an annual average value of more than $8MM. Previously it had been reported that the deal would be for $66MM, an average of $8.25MM, and Dreger later confirmed that these numbers are correct. He also believes that the defenseman will be given the Coyotes captaincy, something that many believed would happen last season. The contract can’t be officially announced until July 1st, when Ekman-Larsson has just a single year remaining on his current deal.
The face of the Arizona franchise is one of several star defensemen scheduled for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019, but has always maintained that he would like to stay in the desert. Since being selected sixth overall in 2009, Ekman-Larsson has grown into an elite offensive force with five straight double-digit goal seasons including two in which he broke 20. He’s also better defensively than some give him credit for—thanks largely to his terrible plus/minus ratings the last few years—and is able to log big minutes in all situations.
Still just 26-years old, Ekman-Larsson isn’t necessarily even signing the final contract of his career. That’s part of the reason why he’d been held up in the same conversation with Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson, who will both hit free agency at an older age next summer. An eight-year extension takes Ekman-Larsson through his age-35 season though, which still presents plenty of risk. The Coyotes aren’t as flush with cash as some other organizations, meaning they can’t afford paying a player this much if he’s not producing for them. Even getting him under contract will put them in a tight spot financially, especially as players like Clayton Keller and Jakob Chychrun get new contracts in the coming years.
The Coyotes made it clear to Ekman-Larsson that they wanted him to stay when they went out last offseason and tried to make the team better right away. Acquiring Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from New York, and bringing in his Swedish defense partner in Niklas Hjalmarsson from Chicago. Though Arizona struggled through a historically-bad start, the second half of the season did show some promise as Keller showed his future stardom and a healthy Raanta became the goaltender they expected him to be. Now with Raanta locked up and more young players ready to make an impact, the Coyotes aren’t as far away from playoff contention as some may believe.
What was once termed a “Superclass” for 2019 is slowly dwindling, and on July 1st we’ll really find out what is going to be available. Doughty has been rumored to be in talks on a potential extension of his own, and the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars will be desperately trying to lock up Ryan Ellis and Tyler Seguin. Ekman-Larsson’s new contract will also cause a ripple in the summer trade market, as some believed he would be available if the team hadn’t been able to get a deal done. John Carlson should also be pointing to this contract as a comparable after his outstanding season, and trying to secure at least $8MM for himself this summer.