The window for buyouts in the National Hockey League officially opened today and the Vancouver Canucks have wasted no time. They have bought out defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Ekman-Larsson played two seasons with Vancouver prior to the buyout, scoring seven goals and 44 assists for a total of 51 points across two seasons with the team.
How did we get here?
Oliver Ekman-Larsson was once an analytical darling defenseman and the new franchise face of the Arizona Coyotes after Shane Doan’s retirement. He was the only member of the 2011-12 Coyotes team that made the Western Conference Final to still be in Glendale by the start of the 2017-18 season. On the first day of the 2018-19 NHL year, then-Coyotes general manager John Chayka signed Ekman-Larsson to an eight-year contract with the intent to lock down the face of the Coyotes’ blue line. At the time, it was fully justified.
As the graph shows, the extension was a grave mistake from the moment the contract was signed. Ekman-Larsson’s play saw an exponential decline that he could never fully recover from. The Coyotes wanted to get out of his contract and quickly. They tried trading him away during the 2020 offseason, but to no avail.
The next offseason, Arizona finally put together a deal with Vancouver. The following trade was made:
In the two years since, Ekman-Larsson, try as he might, could not rekindle his peak form. Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin, seeing the writing on the wall, decided to buy out the defenseman. The breakdown of the buyout is as follows:
What teams should expect from Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is in no way what he once was. His defensive metrics in particular have taken an irreversible nosedive and his offense is alright, but not worth $8.25 million per year for four more years.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is still very capable as an NHL-level defenseman, there’s no denying that. He will get looks from several teams, particularly those looking for third-pairing left-handed defensemen. Teams that immediately come to mind include Carolina, Florida, Colorado, and perhaps Toronto if Jake Muzzin cannot return to play.
There is no denying Oliver Ekman-Larsson will get a lot of attention in free agency. Perhaps he gets so much attention a bidding war ensues and he goes from one nigh unmovable contract to another one. Either way, he will have a new home in about two weeks’ time.
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