How good is Coyotes trade rumor magnet Oliver Ekman-Larsson, really?

ekman-larsson
Getty Images

For those who at least know who Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is, the next question is: “How good is OEL?” Is OEL worth all the fuss amid rumors that teams like the Bruins and Canucks might be interested?

That might depend upon who you ask.

Let’s go over Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s contract, stats (both fancy and traditional), and the perceptions about his game. Will they make it any easier to decide if OEL is worth all of the trade rumors and attention? Well, hopefully … but as important as NHL defensemen are, they can also be tough nuts to crack.

The inherent risks of trading for an aging defenseman on a big contract

Oliver Ekman-Larsson turned 29 on July 17. The Swedish defenseman played in 723 regular-season games with the Coyotes, while appearing in only 25 career playoff contests.

That 29-year-old age will scare you or produce a shoulder shrug depending upon your view of the aging curve. (For me? Yeah, I’d be frightened. Hockey Graphs noted in 2017 that NHL players peak between ages 23-27, and things can start to get ugly when they enter their 30’s.)

However you feel about OEL’s age, his contract isn’t cheap. Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s contract carries a robust $8.25M cap hit through 2026-27, with no-movement clauses throughout. Whether it’s the Coyotes or a team like the Bruins or Canucks, chances are, it could be very hard to trade OEL as time goes on.

The current NHL economic climate makes trading for OEL even riskier

And the NHL’s current economic realities make OEL’s contract an even bigger risk. Mostly.

A contending team trading for Oliver Ekman-Larsson would need to cross its fingers that most of the worst COVID-related money impacts end up being contained to 2020-21. The Coyotes (eventually) already paid OEL’s $4M signing bonus, so his team would only be on the hook for $4M for 2020-21. Unfortunately, that’s the only short-term good news about the contract.

The very bad news is that extremely expensive days are coming up.

OEL’s total annual salary is slated at $10.5M from 2021-22 through 2023-24. In 2024-25, it’s also pricey at $8M. Then, it gets quite trade-friendly, as his salary ($5.25M) is much lower than that $8.25M cap hit.

So, Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s biggest paydays come during periods of serious financial uncertainty for the NHL. Maybe a big market team like the Boston Bruins don’t care, but what if the global pandemic throws all sorts of revenues for a loop, and for multiple seasons?

Teams have to ask themselves that question about any move going forward, yet especially with a premium-priced defenseman like OEL. Especially since, well, it’s fair to wonder if OEL is still a premium defenseman.

Most stats point to a troubling decline for Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Whether you look at traditional stats or “fancy,” advanced ones, it’s clear that OEL’s numbers slipped.

Granted, it’s easier to talk yourself into trading for Oliver Ekman-Larsson if you look at the usual offensive numbers. While he may never flirt with a legitimately Norris-caliber 2015-16 season (21 goals, 55 points, bonkers possession numbers), OEL still scores, generating nine goals and 30 points in 66 games. That point-every-other-game-or-so pace doesn’t scream “$8.25M defenseman,” but it’s likely more soothing to old-school types. Consider that, since 2013-14, Ekman-Larsson ranked 16th among defensemen in points (297) and third in goals (108). You won’t find a ton of defensemen with two 20+ goal seasons to their name, but OEL is one of them.

Again, though, you’re paying and/or trading for what Oliver Ekman-Larsson will do, not what he already accomplished. That’s where recent slippage is worrisome.

Taking a more complete look at his game, consider how Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s RAPM chart for his lofty 2013-2016 years look (via Evolving Hockey):

Oliver Ekman-Larsson RAPM 1
RAPM chart via Evolving Hockey

Compared to his more modest recent seasons:

Oliver Ekman-Larsson RAPM 2
RAPM Chart via Evolving Hockey

For the most part, people aren’t condemning Oliver Ekman-Larsson as a “bad” defenseman who no team should trade for.

Instead, the questions revolve around whether he’s worth giving up real assets for in a trade, and just how toxic OEL’s contract looks. It’s tough to beat up on the Coyotes too much for signing a player closer to when he was legitimately elite, but it’s possible that those elite days are in his past.

It’s slightly puzzling that the Bruins would give up assets and pay big money for OEL, and not just use that money to bring back Torey Krug:

SKATR OEL - Krug
SKATR chart via Bill Comeau

Unless the Coyotes retained OEL’s contract, or took on someone else’s (cheaper) problem(s), I’m not sure that trading for Oliver Ekman-Larsson is worth the risk. Some do, though.

NHL staffers seem on board with trading for Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Arizona Coyotes Insider’s Craig Morgan provided a great look at how people around the NHL view trading for Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Broadly speaking, the “eight independent voices” didn’t seem overly concerned about OEL’s age.

“I don’t think life stops at 29 and 30,” A league source told Morgan. “We’ve got this narrative that once you’re 27 you’re on the downside of your career. Not everybody is the same. It depends how much hockey you have played, what’s your injury history and how hard have the miles been, but I don’t necessarily subscribe to theory that once you turn 30 the hourglass starts on the end of your career. I still think there’s lot of hockey left in Oliver.”

[MORE: Trade market “intensifying” for Oliver Ekman-Larsson]

There’s optimism about how a change of scenery may benefit OEL’s game. Indeed, there does seem to be some fire to go with all the smoke about Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s style not mixing well with Rick Tocchet’s coaching.

All of that said, it’s pretty dangerous to project improvement on a player when you’re trading for them, at least when that player a) carries a huge contract and b) will probably cost you significant assets. What if Oliver Ekman-Larsson is what he is?

Which, lately, has been: a good defenseman (sometimes quite good, sometimes just OK) making the money of a truly elite one? Should you really talking yourself into trading for a player whose top contract comparables are John Carlson, Roman Josi, and Victor Hedman?

Closing thoughts on Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s trade value

For every person wondering if trading for Oliver Ekman-Larsson would be worth the risk, there are some who are empathic about it. That goes for both sides of analytics vs. old-school debates. The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis warmed up to the idea (sub required), while Brian Burke didn’t seem too keen on the Canucks adding him.

Personally, it boils down to mitigating risks.

Will the Coyotes, as cash-challenged as they are, be willing to retain some of OEL’s contract in a trade? If not, would they take on a smaller contract, particularly one that also has some term? What kind of trade package would the Coyotes accept, realizing that their partner likely knows that Arizona needs to shed salary as much as possible?

It all sounds very risky, but could be a lot of fun to watch. Hey, at least we’re not the ones signing the checks, right? (Unless you’re an NHL owner. *waves*)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Scroll Down For:

    Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

    marc-andre fleury
    David Berding/Getty Images
    2 Comments

    ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

    The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

    “They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

    Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

    Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

    Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

    “I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

    The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

    There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

    “We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

    The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

    COMINGS AND GOINGS

    The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

    MORE POWER

    The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

    “It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

    BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

    Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

    “Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

    UP FRONT

    With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

    ON THE SLATE

    This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.

    Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

    General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

    The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    “I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

    Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

    The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

    “It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

    “We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

    Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
    3 Comments

    Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

    For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

    “I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

    The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

    That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

    “We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

    It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

    A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

    “It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

    NEW COACHES

    The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

    “Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

    The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

    CAMP TRYOUTS

    Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

    The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

    “They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

    EARLY START

    Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

    “We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

    Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

    And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

    “I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

    Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

    Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

    He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

    And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

    “The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

    With that, Barkov was sold.

    And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

    “We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

    Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

    He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

    “The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

    As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

    “I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”

    BOBROVSKY’S SUMMER

    Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

    He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

    “I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”

    CAMP ROSTER

    Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.