‘When he’s good, he’s really good’: The Canucks’ future is one that features Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Photo credit:© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
7 months ago
As the Canucks’ season winds down and fans and media alike start to ever so slightly look ahead to the offseason, many questions are being brought to the forefront.
Chief among them: where do the Canucks go from here?
While that question is certainly a loaded one, it’s widely agreed upon — thanks in large part due to president Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin’s somewhat constant reminders — that creating cap space is the biggest goal the Canucks have set for themselves this offseason.
Rutherford and Allvin want to change this roster up, and the best way to do that is by creating cap flexibility.
You’ve heard it all before. The Canucks can trade a plethora of assets to gain cap flexibility while also getting value back in return. Brock Boeser, Conor Garland, and J.T. Miller all have positive value, and the club is expected to continue trying to move out some of their bad money this summer, the same way they did at the deadline.
According to multiple sources, the Canucks were trying hard to offload their bad money contracts at this year’s trade deadline — names like Jason Dickinson and Tucker Poolman come to mind — and were able to pull the trigger on what many in the hockey world considered a fleecing when they were able to move out all of Travis Hamonic’s two-year contract in exchange for a third-round pick at the deadline.
They were then able to flip a third-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Travis Dermott, who many in the Canucks’ hockey ops department view as an all-around better defenceman than Hamonic, at half the price.
In essence, the Canucks were able to free up cap space while at the same time acquiring a player that they liked more.
It’s safe to assume that the Canucks will look to do something similar this offseason.
One name, who it’s fine to consider as “bad money” is Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who will take up $7.26 million on the Canucks’ salary cap until 2026-27 — Ekman Larsson’s age 35 season.
That contract isn’t great, but it’s not one that’s worth moving for the Canucks.
Assuming the Canucks can’t find a team that views Ekman-Larsson and his contract as a net-positive asset, or even one worth giving up a late-round pick for, the Canucks will either have to pair OEL with another more valuable asset and not get much in return as a result, or they will have to keep him through the years that are, in all likelihood, the primes of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes’ careers.
AKA, the team’s cup window.
And sure, that’s not ideal, but the fact of the matter is, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is almost certainly going to be in Vancouver until his contract expires, at the very least.
And that may not be as bad as you think it is!
Allow us to explain.
First off, Ekman-Larsson’s leadership is greatly valued by the Canucks, and rightfully so. For an organization that felt the effects of losing veteran leadership when they allowed Chris Tanev, Jacob Markstrom, and Tyler Toffoli to all walk in free agency in the same offseason, Ekman-Larsson is a good voice to have in the room.
“I mean, O’s been great,” Canucks captain Bo Horvat told CanucksArmy. “I think he’s obviously feeling more and more comfortable in the locker room and on the ice. He’s been a stud for us all year. I mean, playing against other teams’ top lines. He fills in when Huggy’s been hurt on our power play unit and doing all the little things as well. We’re lucky to have him”
And while overpaying for leadership alone is something the Canucks want to do less of with this new regime, his play on the ice this season has been better than most expected.
By all accounts, OEL’s first year in Vancouver has been a success, and that while the point totals haven’t been there — except for when he was filling in for Quinn Hughes on PP1 ever so briefly — Ekman-Larsson’s play alongside Tyler Myers on the Canucks’ “shutdown” pair has been good this season.
But how long can Ekman-Larsson keep this up?
Therein lies the question.
Let’s look at the type of defenceman OEL is, and what he’s done to find success this season.
Once a first power play unit staple and Norris Trophy candidate, Ekman-Larsson has changed up his game a bit and has instead become a defensive stalwart thanks to his high IQ still capable of getting shots from the point through traffic when needed.
That — except for maybe the last part — sounds a lot like Alex Edler, who despite losing some footspeed, was able to use his high defensive IQ to still hold his own defensively in his mid-30s.
Truly, a best-case scenario for the Canucks is if Ekman-Larsson can age as gracefully as Edler as he approaches his mid-30s during this current contract.
And when we asked head coach Bruce Boudreau to evaluate OEL’s play this season, he made a bold prediction in doing so.
“When he’s good, he’s really good,” said Boudreau. “He’s had — like everybody else on the Canucks — games that he wish he had back. When you’ve played for an organization for a long time and you go to another organization, there’s an adjustment period and he’s had it but I think he likes where he is right now. He still plays 23-24 minutes a night every night, and he’s been a real mainstay for us. So I have no problem with him, and I think he’s going to be better next year than he was this year.”
“I’ve seen over the years that when a guy gets traded, and he’s been on a team for a long time, his first year with that team is an acclimation period. Once he gets used to them, he becomes the player he used to be.
“You see a lot of guys getting traded in their first year, and [teams] are going ‘we traded for him for what? He’s not as good as I thought he was,’ but then they become who they are…I think this time next year, you’ll see — and I mean, he’s playing really good for us right now — but I mean, I’m just saying you’ll see it right from the beginning.”
Like it or not, Ekman-Larsson is almost certainly going to be here for the long-haul, and that’s just fine.
The trade that brought him here is thought to be one of the worst in recent memory, but that’s not at the fault of the player.
He’s here on a less-than-ideal contract, and the Canucks will certainly have to keep it front of mind and build around it for years to come, but if Ekman-Larsson can keep up his current level of play — or as Boudreau thinks — play even better next year, then the club will be perfectly fine with that.
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