We could see some significant player movement across the NHL this offseason, and one of the biggest names getting attention right now is Arizona Coyotes defenseman (and captain) Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Trading him would represent a fairly seismic shift for a Coyotes team that is already likely to lose Taylor Hall to unrestricted free agency over the next few weeks.
Thursday ended up being a noteworthy day on the Ekman-Larsson front due to several reports regarding interested teams and his preferred destinations.
This would not be an easy trade for the Coyotes to complete because Ekman-Larsson’s contract is not only significant financially (seven years remaining at an $8.25 million salary cap hit), but because he also has a no-movement clause that allows him to dictate where he goes.
The Edmonton Oilers were thought to be a team with interest in Ekman-Larsson, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Oscar Klefbom who may need shoulder surgery that could sideline him for a significant portion of 2020-21 season. But TSN’s Darren Dreger reportedthat while trade talks around Ekman-Larsson are believed to be “intensifying,” the Oilers have been informed they are NOT currently on the very short-list of teams he would consider a trade to.
Who are the teams on that list?
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, it is Boston and Vancouver (with long-time Coyotes reporter Craig Morgan adding that Boston has been a preferred destination).
Let’s take a quick look at both of those options.
This would be the definition an “all in, Stanley Cup or bust” trade.
Over the past two years the Bruins have been in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and finished the following regular season with the league’s best record. They are already one of the league’s powers and have a potentially massive hole opening up on their blue line due to the pending unrestricted free agency of Torey Krug.
(Not to mention the fact that Zdeno Chara, if he returns, is going to be 43 years old.)
There is a need there, and it would give Charlie McAvoy a long-term partner on the team’s top defense pairing.
The wild thing about this is the Bruins actually have the salary cap space to take on Ekman-Larsson’s contract, but doing so would almost certainly slam the door shut on a Krug return. The question then becomes are the Bruins better with Ekman-Larsson (minus whatever assets they have to give up to acquire him) than they are with Krug?
That’s a tough question to answer.
They can both be outstanding players, they are the exact same age, and their salary commitments will probably end up being in the same ballpark depending on what Krug’s value is on the open market.
Their overall production offensively is very similar, but Ekman-Larsson’s underlying numbers have regressed in recent years. Krug’s, meanwhile, have remained very strong. It is important to point out, though, the quality of talent around each player in those seasons. Playing next to McAvoy and behind David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand would do a lot to revitalize any career.
This is the exact type of move we should be expecting from the Canucks this offseason.
They have been operating like they are contenders for a couple of years now despite being in a rebuild, and their postseason success in 2020 (winning their play-in round series against Minnesota, eliminating St. Louis in the First Round, then taking Vegas to Game 7 in the Second Round) is only going to further convince them they are close.
The big issue here: Can they afford this?
The Canucks have $14 million in salary cap space to work with, but have a LOT of holes to fill at the bottom roster. They definitely need another top-four defenseman, but they are also going to need a goalie (either re-signing Jacob Markstrom or a different outside addition) and will have several roster spots to fill due to potential UFA losses (Tyler Toffoli, Chris Tanev). That does not even get into other improvements they may need to make to simply improve their depth production, something that needs to happen.
Can they do all of that?
Another potential wrinkle in all of this: Neither one of these teams currently owns a first-round pick in the 2020 NHL draft, an asset that Arizona would almost certainly want as part of a trade. The Coyotes do not currently have a pick until the fourth-round in this year’s class. The Bruins own picks in the second and third rounds, while Vancouver does not have a pick until the third round.
A 2021 first-round pick could, however, be in play. The Coyotes are also lacking a pick there as punishment for violating the NHL’s scouting combine testing policy.