The Vancouver Canucks have made the first buyout of the summer, announcing that they have bought out defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Ekman-Larsson had four years left on an eight-year $66MM contract he signed with the Arizona Coyotes in July of 2018, but with the buyout it will allow the 31-year-old to become an unrestricted free agent where he will be free to start fresh with any team he chooses. Ekman-Larsson posted two goals and 20 assists this past season in 54 games with the Canucks while averaging 20 minutes of ice time a night.
Vancouver will free up some desperately needed cap space as they head into a summer where they will be trying to sign star forward Elias Pettersson to a long-term contract extension. The Canucks will save $7.1MM in cap space this season with the buyout and $4.9MM next year. They will save $2.5MM the two years after that and then have a cap charge of $2.13MM for four years.
While it is an expensive penalty to pay, it was a necessary move for the Canucks. Ekman-Larsson’s play has fallen off a cliff in recent years as the once elite defender has struggled since the 2019-20 season. There was a time when it was a given that he would play 25 minutes a night, put up 40-50 points a season and post terrific underlying numbers. But those days are long gone and his play as of late is more in line with that of a third pairing defenseman. The Karlskrona, Sweden native hasn’t posted 30 points since the 2019-20 season and hasn’t posted much in the way of positive analytics since that time.
Ekman-Larsson’s fall from elite status is surprising, but the buyout may not be the worst thing in the world for him. His salary forced him to play up in the lineup in a spot that was probably asking too much given where his skillset is at. With the buyout he could find a situation where he is paid like a 5-6 defenseman and deployed like one too. This could ultimately lead to a bit of a resurgence for Ekman-Larsson. However, if another team offers to pay him like a 3-4 defenseman based on name recognition, they may be disappointed with the results that they see, not unlike the Ryan Suter situation with the Dallas Stars.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the buyout.