With the NHL off-season right around the corner and several notable trades having already occurred in recent weeks, the trade winds are blowing around the league. One of the more intriguing players who may be available is Arizona Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that there is interest in the star defenseman, naming the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers as three teams that have checked in. However, he adds that there are undoubtedly more interested teams.
Ekman-Larsson, who comes in at No. 2 on The Athletic’s list of top trade targets, has been an elite defenseman in the NHL since he broke into the league full-time in 2011-12. A true two-way blue liner who is good for 40+ points and 150+ hits nearly every year, Ekman-Larsson plays big minutes and in every situation. He would be an asset to any team in the NHL.
However, Ekman-Larsson also comes with the price tag of an $8.25MM cap hit over seven more years. For that reason, The Athletic accurately states that there is some substantial risk in acquiring the Swedish star. TSN’s Travis Yost also warns that most defensemen begin to decline after the age of 27 and Ekman-Larsson, 29, has already shown some signs of slipping.
With that said, any team interested in Ekman-Larsson also knows that they hold all the leverage in trade talks. While the Coyotes don’t necessarily have to trade Ekman-Larsson, they need to move a player, or likely several, this off-season. Arizona is in the worst salary cap position in the league with only about $1MM in cap space and only 17 regulars signed. While the team can get $5.275MM in relief from placing Marian Hossa on the injured reserve, they are still only left with about $6.5MM and six roster spots to fill, including three key restricted free agents to sign. If the ’Yotes choose to move Ekman-Larsson, it would do wonders for their salary cap situation. Yet, they also stand very little chance of getting fair value back for him due to their desperate situation. For that reason, new GM Bill Armstrong may not want his first major move to be dealing away a franchise icon for pennies on the dollar.
For now, it seems teams are only kicking the tires and the Coyotes have not made a decision on whether Ekman-Larsson is actually available. However, in the difficult flat-cap environment facing many teams this off-season, there is no way of knowing what could happen. Ekman-Larsson could very well start next season on a new team and it might not even take a blockbuster to get him.