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Why Vancouver Canucks Defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson Had a Good Season

The Vancouver Canucks defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson arrived in a controversial fashion, and that hasn’t diminished in the year since. There’s even been talk of somehow trading him this off-season, though it’s difficult to see how. Or, even, why.

Defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson Bright Spot Given Situation

Good Enough or Good

A funny thing happened for the previous “most hated contract” on the team, he re-signed with them. The difference, of course, was that Brandon Sutter was signed for a fifth the duration and a quarter the cost. What was a wildly overpriced deal became quite reasonable for what he provides. Or could be expected to provide, given his age and skill set. Such is the problem with many of Jim Benning‘s deals. Getting the player was understandable, but paying through the nose for them wasn’t.

Benning’s deals got more desperate as the years progressed, highlighted by acquiring defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. It’s a deal that was Peak Benning. Vancouver has had miserable luck with their defencemen, lacking a true star on the blue line until the arrival of Quinn Hughes. This highlights the other problem with the Ekman-Larsson trade. Why on Earth would you trade for him AFTER you have Hughes?

The best any of his coaches, however many he ends up having, can do is find a way to use him. It won’t be as the scoring star, and it won’t be as a partner with Hughes as they both play the left side. And at a price point that’s over seven million dollars for another five years? Whatever use is left won’t be worth that. But if we put aside his salary, has he earned his space in the lineup? It was the worst offensive output of his career after his rookie season. That’s not great.

Just Do Your (Ill-Defined) Job!

With the Arizona Coyotes, he was the captain and the top-billed star. In Vancouver, those posts were well taken. So for the Canucks, defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is part of a shutdown pair with, amazingly, Tyler Myers. It’s a bit of a shock, given that defence isn’t exactly Myers’ strong suit. But what was started by Travis Green continued under Bruce Boudreau. They would have surpassed 1,000 minutes together if Ekman-Larsson hadn’t missed three games.

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Given the 2021-22 season, nearly everything has to be filtered into pre-and-post-coaching/General Manager change. The year started hideously, with Vancouver stumbling badly from day one. There was a lot of looking for what worked with the newly-reformed team, and the slow start brought a pall with it. Once the people behind the bench and in the boardroom were changed, there was a whole new coach trying to figure out what to do with him. And that took a while.

The end result is a mediocre scoring year with modest defensive success. The pair ended the season with a 49.3 expected goals percentage, which isn’t ideal for the highest ice time on the team. But the lauded pair of Luke Schenn and Hughes ended at a marginally better 50%.

Where’s the Hope?

Talk of a trade is a little delusional. He has a full no-move clause for the duration of his contract and made it very clear Vancouver is where he wants to be. But if anyone were interested – and he agreed – next year is his last bonus payment. Maybe, if he agreed to a deal of any kind one might happen after that bonus is paid. But even then the Canucks will likely be retaining salary and burning draft picks. Cap space can be gained, but at what cost? And really, how much? He’d need to be replaced, and unless you think Travis Dermott can add five minutes per game to his ice time then his replacement will cost.

Something happened on the way to Vancouver’s playoff push. In the last three months of the season, in a desperate time for the Canucks, Ekman-Larsson suddenly started producing. In the final 37 games, he scored three times and recorded 21 points. He didn’t relax his defence to do it, either. It’s hardly the All-Star scoring pace some might have wanted for the cost, but if he can bring 40-45 points in a season while continuing a matchup role? That’s still not worth $7 million, but it does keep pressure off Hughes.

Don’t get us wrong, Hughes has handled himself ably. But it would also be nice to ease up a little on this season’s 25 minutes per game. Ekman-Larsson isn’t going to be worth his cap space while he’s in Vancouver, even with the retained salary. But if he can provide the Canucks with solid defence and secondary scoring from the blue line, that won’t hurt at all.

Data sourced from MoneyPuck.

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