The Vancouver Canucks have landed their big fish, acquiring Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the Arizona Coyotes. The team will also land restricted free agent forward Conor Garland, according to John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports. The Coyotes are expected to receive Vancouver’s first-round pick this year (9th overall), a 2022 second-round pick and forwards Antoine Roussel, Loui Eriksson and Jay Beagle, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, who also notes that the Coyotes will be retaining 12 percent of Ekman-Larsson’s salary. CapFriendly adds that a 2023 seventh-round pick will also be going to the Coyotes.
This is a huge deal in terms of salary, as the Canucks clear three bad contracts off the books to make room for Ekman-Larsson. The 30-year-old defenseman carries a cap hit of $8.25MM through the 2026-27 season, but is owed $10.5MM in actual salary each of the next three years. Even after the Coyotes retained a portion of it ($990K/season), Vancouver is taking on a huge risk that the veteran defenseman will be able to not only maintain his current level of play, but rebound to the levels that landed him that deal in the first place.
In 2018 when he signed the eight-year, $66MM extension, Ekman-Larsson was coming off a 14-goal, 42-point campaign with the Coyotes. He had previously received votes for the Norris Trophy on four occasions and had just posted his fifth consecutive season with double-digit goal totals. The risky part, even then, was that it was a true extension, signed with a full year still left on his previous deal. While that final year at $5.5MM was also very productive, this new contract hasn’t brought much success for the Swedish defender.
In 2019-20, he scored just nine goals and 30 points in 66 games, while seeing his possession numbers drop across the board. Despite still seeing prime powerplay time, his effectiveness with the man-advantage dropped, resulting in just seven powerplay points. This season, he scored just three times in 46 games, logging his lowest point total since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. That came after a 2020 offseason filled with trade talks, with Vancouver and Boston the two teams he told Arizona he’d be willing to go to.
To make room for him in Vancouver, the team is moving out three contracts that total $12MM in cap room this season, but will actually require just $8.1MM in actual salary (minus some of the bonus payments that were likely already made by the Canucks) from the Coyotes. The most crucial part for Arizona is that each of Roussel, Beagle and Eriksson will become unrestricted free agents next season, meaning this is very little commitment from the Coyotes. A high first-round pick to swap Ekman-Larsson’s expensive deal for ones that will only affect the team this season is a steal, though there is of course that other player heading to Vancouver.
Garland, 25, has come on as the Coyotes most impressive forward in recent years, scoring 39 points in each of the last two seasons. His 47 goals in 164 games since entering the NHL will be a welcome addition to the Canucks lineup, though how much it will cost is still uncertain. Garland is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent with quite a case, after his previous two-year, $1.55MM (total) deal expires.
In all, this is a risk from the Canucks standpoint. Betting on Ekman-Larsson to rediscover his top-end form in a flat-cap era is one that could cost them good, young players in the future, especially given the other negotiations that the Canucks have coming up this summer. Sure, they moved out some bad money for this year, but this deal has financial ramifications that far outreach the 2021-22 season.
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