An Oliver Ekman-Larsson buyout is the only way the Canucks can re-tool the defence
Photo credit:© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
By Noah Strang12 days ago
The Vancouver Canucks are playing well. They’ve won five straight and have a 7-2-1 record over their last ten games, making them one of the hottest teams in the league.
There are a lot of factors that the Canucks’ recent stretch of strong play can be attributed to. The return of Thatcher Demko, a soft schedule, and head coach Rick Tocchet having more time to set his systems are definitely all big reasons for the recent winning streak. However, the Canucks have also just flat-out been playing some of their best hockey of the season.
This is especially true on the defensive side of things. Since February 20th, a sample size of exactly 10 games, the Canucks rank seventh in the NHL with 2.16 goals against per sixty 5-on-5 minutes. The Canucks also rank in the top ten league-wide for shots against per sixty 5-on-5 minutes and goals against per sixty minutes on the penalty kill over the same time frame.
The return of Thatcher Demko, who is playing much better than he did at the start of the season, has definitely helped a ton, but the Canucks are also making life much easier for him. The most shocking part of this may be that the team has posted these impressive defensive results while running with a mishmash defence corps made up of multiple AHL regulars.
Quinn Hughes – Noah Juulsen
Guillaume Brisebois – Tyler Myers
Christian Wolanin – Kyle Burroughs
The Canucks are rolling out the six players listed above and having more success than ever. The most notable absence is that of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the veteran defenceman currently missing time with a lower body injury. Despite being paid like a top-pairing defenceman, Ekman-Larsson’s lack of foot speed and quickness has made him a liability and the Canucks have been finding more success with quicker options.
If the Canucks want to be competing for a playoff spot next season, and every move made by management suggests that to be true, they need to buyout Ekman-Larsson this offseason. The savings over the next few seasons would help alleviate the team’s cap pressure while perhaps even improving the roster at the same time, as AHL options have shown they can outperform Ekman-Larsson.
What would an Oliver Ekman-Larsson buyout look like?
If the Canucks were to buy out Ekman-Larsson this offseason, this is how the money would shake out. The team would save just over $7 million in cap space for next season, as well as just under $5 million in the year after that. However, the Canucks would have to take a penalty of $2.126 million each season between 2027-28 and 2030-31.
PuckPedia buyout calculator for Oliver Ekman-Larsson (PuckPedia)
For the current management regime, this has to look enticing. The savings over the next two seasons are huge, giving them a chance to make more moves and manipulate the roster in their vision. If they can’t make progress with that cap space before 2026-27, they might not be around to deal with the headache of the buyout at the end of the decade.
Replacing Ekman-Larsson’s production
When the Canucks acquired Ekman-Larsson, it was widely acknowledged that taking on his contract was a huge risk and that he would definitely not be able to live up to that number in the latter years of the deal. However, Ekman-Larsson’s fall from grace has happened more suddenly than even most of the Coyotes/Canucks trade’s harshest critics predicted. This is just his second year with the Canucks and not only has he not played anywhere close to his $7.26 million cap hit, he’s barely been a replacement level defenceman.
The Canucks get completely dominated while Ekman-Larsson is on the ice at 5-on-5. He’s got a 38.54 GF% on the year, and the Canucks allow shots at a higher rate with him on the ice compared to any other defenceman that’s played at least 10 games this season. Part of this has to do with the fact that he’s forced to matchup against opponent’s top-six forwards, but players that the Canucks have acquired for practically nothing such as Ethan Bear, Christian Wolanin, and more have done a better job.
The Canucks would not struggle to replace Ekman-Larsson’s on-ice production if they were to buy out his contract this offseason. The money could be used to target cheaper, faster, and quicker options that would be able to perform just as well for the Canucks next season. Ekman-Larsson’s speed was already a huge issue and after ageing another year, as well as dealing with this ankle injury, things are not going to be better next season.
Another reason why the Canucks would be wise to buy out Ekman-Larsson this offseason is that it maximizes the cap space they can get over the next few seasons. The Canucks have some large extensions on the horizon, most significantly for Elias Pettersson and Filip Hronek who will both need new deals after next season.
While buying out Ekman-Larsson won’t be enough alone, it would be a massive step towards clearing the money needed to handle those extensions while also still being able to improve the team.
The Canucks can’t afford to keep paying Ekman-Larsson to be a liability on defence. They must get younger and faster and they can do so for much less than the $7 million they’re paying Ekman-Larsson at the moment. While swallowing the $2.126 million for four consecutive seasons after this contract expires is less than ideal, it’s the cheapest way for the Canucks to get out of this sticky situation.
And if they hope to compete next season, it’s the only way for them to navigate this situation.
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