Back on the afternoon of Monday April 9th, Craig Morgan of Arizona Sports reported that 26-year-old defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson had hinted at interest in signing a contract extension over the summer to keep him locked up with the Arizona Coyotes.
Just two days later, Morgan re-iterated the fact of which the club’s current alternate captain was indeed a critical piece of the Coyotes summer plans with a revamp knowingly coming after finishing the 2017-18 season seated last place in the Pacific Division.
Now looking ahead to the morning of Wednesday June 6, Craig Morgan of Arizona Sports was back at it when he reported that the Arizona Coyotes were discussing an eight-year deal with the native of Karlskrona, Sweden.
This wouldn’t be all for discussions involving the former first-round pick (6th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. On Monday night, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.ca reported that several teams who had been inquiring about the two-time All-Star had indicated that they were being told he is officially off the trade market. While there was no comment from the team nor his agent, it appeared as if a verbal agreement had been put in place between the two sides.
Moving onwards to Tuesday morning, TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reported that a verbal agreement had indeed been reached just as Ekman-Larsson had hoped, meaning he stays with the organization he has been with his entire career thus far.
At this time, Ekman-Larsson is on the final-year of a six-year contract which he signed back in 2013. To that regard, Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic Toronto reported back on Wednesday May 16th that this means he obviously can’t be signed until July 1st given he is one year out of a previously expiring contract.
Furthermore, LeBrun noted that there had been dialogue between the two sides for the previous two months, however, the verdict that was reached was that lots of work was still to be done, therefore, the feeling was things could still go either way. This said, the idea that was left at question was would this be finalized by the NHL Draft which is next week at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, Texas.
If you rewind back to Saturday June 2nd, Coyotes general manager John Chayka spoke with Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek and Sam Cosentino where he ultimately noted that the main priority being focused on was getting Ekman-Larsson signed rather than using him for the purpose of a bargaining trade chip with a roster rebuild on the horizon.
Since the time of the initial report, Darren Dreger has reported that Ekman-Larsson’s new deal will last a lifetime of eight seasons while it will include an AAV of $8.25 million as well as a no trade clause. Dreger notes that captaincy is very likely as well, taking over for Shane Doan who was last in power prior to his retirement at the conclusion of the season.
While everything now seems to be slowly coming together, a club announcement to confirm the transaction is still pending at this time. Once booked, a press conference will either be held Friday if not early next week at Gila Rivers Arena in Glendale, Arizona to formally address the local media upon completion of the extension which is set to kick in upon the start of the 2019-2020 season.
In looking at teams that have been known to show interest in Ekman-Larsson’s services, there has been plenty of talk with the Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers, attached, just a few of many teams to learn of Arizona’s decision to pull him back from the trade table with conversation happening behind the scenes.
This would not be the Coyotes only signing so far this offseason as the club announced on Monday 28th that they had agreed to terms with forward Mario Kempe on a one-year, two-way deal for the 2018-19 season.
Taking a look at his statistics for the 2017-18 season, Ekman-Larsson appeared in a total of 82 games played while having recorded 14 goals to go alongside 28 assists and 42 points. He also averaged 23:41 in ice time a night, leading his team in ice time and posting the 24th-highest mark in the NHL. His best season to date offensively would be back in 2015-16 when he had a breakout season, making for a total of 55 points.
This would not be the only accomplishment in which he hit that year as he also finished behind only Brent Burns in goals among defensemen with 21. Furthermore, his 12 power play goals also ranked second at his position, as did his total of 27 power play points.
The only unfortunate part about all this is that Arizona as a club has gotten considerably worse. What did this mean exactly for the young man set to turn 27 in July? Of course that would result in Ekman-Larsson’s decrease in production to go alongside the team’s low scoring output as well.
According to Josh Beneteau of Sportsnet.ca, general manager John Chayka appeared rather confident the team would come to an agreement with its franchise player when speaking earlier this month at the yearly annual NHL Combine.
In a statement from the second-year general manager who previously served as the club’s assistant general manager, Chayka said, “We’ve been very clear that we’re willing to do whatever we possibly can to have him come back, and (we) think he’s a heck of a defenceman, heck of a player, heck of a person.”
At this time, it is worth noting that Ekman-Larsson is the longest-serving Coyote and has been the cornerstone of the team’s defence since breaking into the league back in 2010. For his career at the National Hockey League level, the rearguard has recorded 102 goals to go alongside 290 points in a total of 576 games played.
Digging deeper on the numbers side for just a moment more, Ekman-Larsson has also recorded 188 assists over the course of his career. As far as his new contract goes, only two blueliners have annual salaries at $8 million or more – Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks ($8 million AAV) and the Nashville Predators’ P.K. Subban ($9 million AAV), as noted by TSN.
With this deal now in the books, Ekman-Larsson becomes the first of a group of star defenceman to go off the board ahead of the 2019 free agency period. Much like himself, Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators are also both set to become free agents after the conclusion of next season and are yet to talk contract with their perspective clubs.
As Ekman-Larsson becomes the team’s second player to sign on for another season or more in his case, the Coyotes will now have three of their top five defensemen signed for at least the next two seasons, according to Craig Morgan of Arizona Sports. This list includes Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers to go alongside Ekman-Larsson. As far as Jakob Chychrun goes, he is set to become a restricted free agent following the conclusion of next season and so the Coyotes would still maintain significant control over his future.
Much like the extensive talks surrounding Ekman-Larsson prior to him signing, Morgan notes that the team has also expressed interest in extending the contract of Niklas Hjalmarsson. To this regard, ArizonaSports.com reported that this was also amongst their plans for the future. At this time, Hjalmarsson has one year left on a five-year, $20.5 million contract that will pay him a total of $4 million next season.
Sources familiar with those conversations have since said that the two sides are currently close to an agreement while it is worth noting that Hjalmarsson, like Ekman-Larsson, is represented by agent Kevin Epp.
As the team now looks to begin a re-build which Chayka believes will have their sights set on better all-around play under the watch of head coach Rick Tocchet, it could certainly give Ekman-Larsson the chance to reach exclusive feats as he looks to exceed the 60-point plateau which without question is entirely possible if a more competitive environment is built around him to enforce such an achievement.
One of perhaps his best aspects in-game on the ice, Ekman-Larsson brings his physicality to the Yotes line-up which along with his offensive talents makes him a key fixture to their starting formation. Adding to his numbers for the season now passed, Ekman-Larsson registered 160 hits to add to his resume.
Should the front office keep up the pace on the trade front and transaction side of things, it might just be time for Ekman-Larsson to experience playoff hockey which the Coyotes have failed to make while he has played out his six-year deal.
While he does have seven years of professional hockey experience now under his belt, Ekman-Larsson is still looked at as one of the top young defensemen in the game as he continues to provide a good example to not only his teammates but other youngsters across the league who are looking to get themselves labeled as a sensation or team leader. Should he keep going at the rate of which he is, Ekman-Larsson could find himself in Arizona’s long-term plans as he continues to profile the type of not only player but person that well represents the Coyotes organization.