Why the Canucks needed to buy out Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Stanley Cup finalist

Photo credit:© Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Liu
13 days ago
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The Vancouver-Florida connection continues to burn strong, but this one stings a bit.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson was not good for the Canucks. His first year was acceptable, and his second year was putrid. There was no beating around the bush that the Swedish defender was overpaid and greatly underperforming. Sure, there is the fact that OEL was dealing with a broken foot in his last season with the Canucks, but at his $8.25 million cap hit, it was just too much for Vancouver to stomach when icing him in their d-corps in a top-4 role.
So, in the offseason, Vancouver bought out OEL, who went on to sign a deal for $2.25 million with the Panthers. He’s seen a resurgence of his play as he’s been pushed down the depth chart in a more structured team. Ekman-Larsson turned from a 22-point, -24 defender into a useful 32-point, +10 option in Florida’s back end.
Naturally, that’s led to some discourse in Vancouver about OEL. Would it have been that bad to not buy him out and see if a healthy season was on the books for 2023-24?
Well, it probably wouldn’t have led to this version of the Canucks’ 2023-24 season.
Clearing OEL’s $8.25 million cap hit leading into the offseason was huge. With that money down to $146,667 for the immediate season, it provided Canucks management with the flexibility to add in free agency. That money was spent defensively on the likes of Carson Soucy ($3.25 million AAV) and Ian Cole ($3 million AAV), both of whom were key parts of Vancouver’s back end throughout the season.
It also gave Vancouver the opportunity to make some more cheap acquisitions, from getting Teddy Blueger for $1.9 million for one year to signing Pius Suter for two years at $1.6 million per year. These adds proved to be contributors throughout the year, important depth options as the Canucks surpassed most of the expectations laid out for them at the start of the year. While OEL’s contract might not have directly impacted Vancouver’s ability to make these signings, they probably would’ve limited the flexibility for Allvin to take some dice rolls.
The buyout allowed Allvin to cook during the season too. It’s not often that the Vancouver Canucks are the most active team on the trade market, but through to the end of January they had made 7 trades out of 17 transactions since September of 2023. Some of them were inconsequential, such as getting Nick Cicek and a 6th for Jack Studnicka. Others were to create more cap flexibility, such as dumping Anthony Beauvillier. Then there was getting Nikita Zadorov and Elias Lindholm, both of whom were big parts to the Canucks’ playoff run.
Again, there were probably ways to make these trades with OEL still fully on the books. But having the additional breathing room gave Vancouver the ability to find more ways to improve the team. Getting Sam Lafferty as a cap dump probably wouldn’t have been possible if the defenceman was still on the roster, and adding a Lindholm or Zadorov would’ve been likely out of the question.
Most importantly, it allowed management to see what they had in their main core, adding to it without the restriction of an $8.25 million AAV 5-6 defender on the books. This team had long been hamstrung by its dead weight, from the Jay Beagles to the Antoine Roussels to the Loui Erikssons on the roster. There was some light at the end of the tunnel in 2020-21, but of course, that was when the trade was done to bring OEL in.
For the first time, Vancouver found value pieces that helped maximize the performance of their stars. It wasn’t all perfect, and there were things that didn’t work. But the important part was that management had the opportunity to try things. Even with some inefficient contracts on the books, the Canucks found themselves in a position to experiment, to add, to see what helped draw out the best in their best players. And for a big chunk of the year, it did, and Vancouver found themselves as deep in the playoffs as they had been for a long while.
So good for OEL for making it to the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s been wrought with adversity, but at a cheaper contract and in a reduced role, he’s become an important contributor to the Florida Panthers’ defence. That wasn’t going to happen in Vancouver, with his salary dictating a much more important role than he should’ve been playing. At this point, OEL wasn’t a top pairing defenceman, despite being paid like one.
Vancouver has a lot of question marks on their roster, with the pending free agents abound and with the buyout hit rising to $2.35 million next season. This isn’t even the tough years, with the dead cap rising to $4.76 million in 2025-26 and 2026-27. But these questions aren’t the usual ones drenched in misery and sadness of the last decade. They have seen what this core can do, and are asking, “What can be done to keep the momentum rolling?” That wasn’t happening with OEL on the books, and this 2023-24 season, which allowed Vancouver to fall back in love with their hockey team, likely would’ve been just another unremarkable season on the bubble.

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