What is Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s value to the Vancouver Canucks and is he worth the $7.26-million per season through 2026-’27, particularly with a much younger and talented Quinn Hughes making $7.85-million per season ahead of him on the left side through the same period of time?
There’s your hearty million dollar question, and it’s a good one. The answer is, yes he’s worth it, if the goal for the Vancouver Canucks is to be a Stanley Cup contender in the next three years.
For those in the “shed his salary cap hit” camp, it’s a no-brainer; trade him and the money.
They’d be wrong because there are options.
Like in real estate, where you’ll see comparables, the D-man market in the NHL can be looked at the same way.
And by way of comparison, let’s not beat around the bush, let’s just go straight to the two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. For them, adjusting the cap after winning titles has been moving on from forwards who start to cost too much.
What doesn’t change; the left side of the D. That’s because you win championships from the goal line out.
Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Mikael Sergachev. $7.875-million, $6.750-million, and $4.8-million. All back at that price next season as well.
Hedman has been a Norris Trophy finalist five straight seasons while winning it in 2018. He’s 31-years-old. McDonagh is 32. Sergachev, who can also play the right side, is 23.
Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks makes $7.85-million per season, essentially the same as Hedman. He’s 22-years-old, has proven nothing, other than showing tremendous skill and updside. In terms of physical presence, like the kind you’d need in the playoffs, there is no comparison.
Which brings us to the man of the hour, Ekman-Larsson, or ‘OEL’.
In combination with Hughes, his $7.26-million adds up to more than Hedman and McDonagh combined. Both Vancouver Canucks are under contract until 2026-’27. Why would you trade OEL now if he’s what you need to win?
By the way, his cap hit would be higher but the always cordial Arizona Coyotes retained 12-percent of it in the trade that sent Ekman-Larsson to Vancouver with Conor Garland last July.
The Stanley Cup favourite Colorado Avalanche spend $30-million of their $82-million cap on the blueline, $15-million of it on their top two right-side D-men Cale Makar and Erik Johnson, age 23 and 34, with Johnson essentially bumped down a slot by rental Josh Manson.
OEL brings the physical presence Hughes does not. He brings a nasty streak. He brings experience and leadership. He’s 30-years-old.
Notice when Hughes was absent, how seamlessly OEL stepped in and quarterbacked the power play effectively. Not a bad insurance policy for your special teams.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is an excellent defenceman who’s efforts went unappreciated for far too long in a lousy market. If his minutes are regulated, as they are naturally with ‘Huggy’ ahead of him on the depth chart, you’ve got yourself a winning one-two punch. Obviously finding an effective and affordable third pair would be key.
22-year-old lefty Jack Rathbone at this point remains a wild card and an RFA with no leverage who needs a new contract. Is he an OEL replacement? If he eventually turns out to be, like with Hughes, the intimidation factor would need to come from his partner.
In the Pacific Division, the Los Angeles Kings spend about the same amount of money on their three left-side D as it costs the Canucks to employ Hughes. Mainly because they’re dropping $11-million per season for the next five years on now injured, 32-year-old righty Drew Doughty. Oops!
Only the Edmonton Oilers hypothetically spend more than Vancouver next season on the left side, with Darnell Nurse bumping up to a whopping $9.25-million, Duncan Keith for another year at $5.538-million, and Oscar Klefbom (now on LTIR) at $4.167-million.
For the Canucks, Ekman-Larsson has the final say, a no-move clause in his contract, but knowing what kind of person he is, I’m sure he’d oblige if the situation was right. Tinsel Town? Does he want to move east?
Speaking of right, that’s the side of the ice where the Vancouver Canucks discussion needs to be focused, up front and along the blueline.
If you move on from OEL, it’s potentially just another Vancouver Canucks stop-start.