Often linked away from Arizona, all star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has apparently agreed to a deal to stay in Arizona for the rest of his career. Sure, this looks like a showing of loyalty by OEL to the team who drafted him, but in reality it is just him accepting that he will not win a Stanley Cup or a Norris Trophy, and will eventually wash away into the forgotten pages of the NHL history books.
Not to be over dramatic, but it’s true. Ekman-Larsson agreeing to a rumoured 8-year deal verbally is him accepting that he enjoys the life he leads in Arizona, wants to remain there, and doesn’t have any desire to chase down a championship. OEL cannot officially sign until July 1st, however the deal has been agreed to verbally from reports by Elliot Friedman and Darren Dreger, two reliable sources.
The decision for him to sign a longterm extension was likely fuelled by money. OEL is currently on one of the most cap-friendly contracts for an elite top pairing defenseman at $5.5 million. And with his contact expiring at the end of next season Ekman-Larsson was a prime candidate for a team to pick up for a massive price and help get them over the line in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, earning him the eventual pay day he probably deserves.
The deal is expected to be 8 years, and now evaluations are coming out suggesting the fee will be $8+ per year. Wow, that would put him in the top three in NHL defenseman contracts with Subban at $9 million and Brent Burns at $8 million.
So is he worth it? Well he puts up solid offensive numbers for a defenseman: Last season in 82 games played he scored 14 goals and added 28 assists. That ranks him 23rd in the league… And despite those 42 points he was still a -28, a career worst plus/minus ranking. His supporters and specifically Arizona Coyote fans will point out that he has successfully maintained his scoring abilities putting up 44, 43, 55, 39, and 42 points since 2013/14 but he has never in those stretches been a + player. His only two season of being positive were 2012/13 where he was +5 in 48 games scoring 24 points, and his rookie season where he played again just 48 games with a +3 rating and 11 points.
What this contract does is effectively price OEL out of any moves based off of duration of the deal and AAV cap hit. He isn’t any closer to winning in Arizona, as his top defence pairing is Luke Schenn, and while there are some exciting young players looking to hopefully take strides next, season (Max Domi, Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome, Christian Fischer, Jacob Chychrun) this team is unlikely to have any sort of success and simply cannot win with the rest of the veteran players on the team.
Stepan as a first line centre, Richard Panik as a first line left winger, Anti Raanta as a starting goaltender, and Luke Schenn as an NHL defenseman. All of these are glaring issues on the Coyotes roster, and locking down on valuable player does not make up for them. Ultimately it seems like OEL has elected ease of life, low expectations, and the comfort of desert living over trying to achieve something with his career. Shame, and a waste.