It hasn’t taken long since the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final for offseason rumors to really start heating up.
And one of said rumors links a highly respected defenseman to the Boston Bruins.
“Boston, Calgary and Edmonton have checked in on Oliver Ekman-Larsson (there undoubtedly are more),” wrote Friedman on Sept. 17.
Said Dreger while linking OEL to the Edmonton Oilers: “This is not going to be an easy transaction for Ken Holland and the Edmonton Oilers. So it’s in the preliminary stages, I would put Boston in that group as well with teams of interest. But also keep in mind here guys, Oliver Ekman-Larsson has trade protection, so he is to some degree going to manage this process.”
So, what should we make of all this?
From a personality fit, it’s easy to see him fitting like a glove with Boston. He’s grown as a leader since breaking into the NHL nearly a decade ago, and he’s done a nice job replacing Shane Doan as captain of the Coyotes. Put him in a room with Patrice Bergeron and the like, and the culture fit makes a lot of sense.
But the reality is Ekman-Larsson is a defenseman who, at his absolute best, was an outside Norris Trophy contender and has regressed the last few seasons. All the while, he gets paid like a perennial Norris contender.
That’s not to say Ekman-Larsson isn’t a good player, but his contract severely complicates things.
Ekman-Larsson is entering his age-29 season and has seven years left on a contract that carries an $8.25 million annual cap hit, fifth-most of NHL blueliners. Any deal that gets him out of Arizona likely will have the Coyotes eating some money, but it’s hard to imagine them taking on so much that it would make it worth the Bruins’ while.
Don Sweeney has done a fine job getting out from under burdensome contracts, and with the trade of David Backes in February, the Bruins have next to no “bad deals” on the books. Trading for seven years of Ekman-Larsson in hopes that he just needs a change of scenery comes with obvious risk.
But from a pure on-ice perspective, it’s understandable why trading for Ekman-Larsson might be tantalizing for the Bruins if the price is right. He generally puts up somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 points per season and historically has been a healthy, reliable player.
He can run a power-play and is a bigger body that has shown before he can play a shutdown role. Even if he has taken a step back under Rick Tocchet (be it natural regression or misuse by his coach is debatable), he’s by no means an inept defender, and with the right partner (Charlie McAvoy? Brandon Carlo?) he could again be more of an impact player.
If the Bruins find a way to get Ekman-Larsson while getting Arizona to retain some money, it could prove to be a decent move. But the Coyotes are trying to create cap space, and they might not be willing to take on as much as needed to make the deal sweet for the Bruins. If you’re Boston, that’s a lot of term and cash for a player you hope rebounds with a new team.