VANCOUVER – Finally freed from the Loui Eriksson disaster and two other onerous contracts, the Vancouver Canucks need to better manage their salary cap. But they must also be better at managing expectations.
When Eriksson signed that six-year, $ 36 million anvil in 2016, he was sold to Canucks fans as a front-line winger. Brandon Sutter was to be Vancouver’s second-line center. In successive years, fans voted Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher as the team’s best defenders, leaving rookies to go further than below.
So when Jim Benning made his big, bold bet on Friday, ditching three bad contracts and trading his first-round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for winger Conor Garland and most of the remaining $ 49.5 million on his contract. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, it was a little disconcerting to hear the general manager call Ekman-Larsson the Canucks’ No. 1 defense.
Ekman-Larsson can lead the team in ice time next season. But if people think the Swede will go back four or five seasons and lead the Canucks defense for the next six years, they will be angry and disappointed again.
Fortunately, Ekman-Larsson doesn’t have to be a No. 1 defender for this trade to work for the Canucks. In fact, if so, it means 21-year-old phenom Quinn Hughes has failed to grow in that role ahead of Ekman-Larsson on the left side of Vancouver’s defense.
The Running Coyote just needs to be reliable in all situations and able to play the first four minutes. Certainly he needs to be a hell of a lot better than he was the last two seasons in Arizona.
“I felt like I’ve been fighting for the last four years,” Ekman-Larsson said Saturday from Sweden, that time period suspiciously coinciding with the four years since Rick Tocchet replaced Dave Tippett as coach at Arizona. “Before that, everything was going very well. You always go through moments like this in a long career. But … it’s the way you get out of it and the way you learn from it, and I feel like I’ve been doing it. I’m very excited to have another chance here with Vancouver. “
Last season was easily the worst of the defender’s 11-year career. His average ice time (20:58) and role were low, and despite easier matchups in Arizona’s second pair, Ekman-Larsson posted advanced stats across the board that were career lows.
Arizona’s expected goals were just 42 percent when Ekman-Larsson was on the ice at five-on-five and his high-danger scoring chance ratio was 39.1 percent.
But the uncomfortable environment the 30-year-old found himself in should not be discounted. One season after his $ 66 million, eight-year contract extension with the Coyotes, new management told his captain last summer that he was no longer wanted and asked him to waive his no-move clause.
When the October trade talks with the Canucks fell through, the Coyotes then asking for players like Thatcher Demko before significantly reducing lawsuits this month, Ekman-Larsson had to return to Phoenix to play for a regime that wanted to get rid of him.
It was hard.
“Yes, I think it was,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I mean, I’m not going to lie. But at the same time, it’s about playing hockey well and I haven’t been able to do that lately and that’s when the rumors start and people start talking about trade and stuff. I’m the first guy to admit that I haven’t been good enough. I’m always going to look in the mirror first (instead of) blaming anyone else.
“I think it’s just a matter of defending hard. When I was successful a couple of years ago, I felt like I was defending myself really well, getting up on the ice and moving the puck well. That’s something that I felt like I stepped away from a little bit, and that’s something I want to go back to. That’s why Vancouver was interested in me, because I’m good at it and that’s what I want to go back to ”.
Relieved and grateful to be a part of the Canucks – Vancouver and Boston were the only teams on his starting roster – the defender said several times how “super excited” he was for the new start.
Daniel Sedin, who along with his brother Henrik rejoined the organization in June as Benning’s special advisor, told Sportsnet 650 radio that Ekman-Larsson took “full responsibility” for his game in recent years and would be better off. in Vancouver.
“The main thing for me is that he is a professional, he is a leader,” Sedin said. “He will be so good to Quinn and (defender Jack) Rathbone, I think, teaching them how to be professionals. It’s not about him, it’s about the team. He will do anything to help the team win and bring everything you want in a teammate and leader. “
But it’s doubtful that Ekman-Larsson brings enough on the ice for everyone to believe he has the full value of the $ 7.26 million annual charge the Canucks face after the Coyotes agreed to withhold $ 990,000 in salary for each of the next few. six years.
However, this does not mean that Ekman-Larsson cannot be a valuable member of the top four. He basically replaces Alex Edler, who just finished a two-year, $ 12 million deal that was widely praised as reasonable when signed in 2019. The Canucks paid Edler $ 6 million a year for his 33 and 34 years. old seasons. Ekman-Larsson just turned 30 a week ago.
“I just want to start right now, to be honest with you,” he said. “I just want the summer to end and move to Vancouver. I am very excited for the new beginning. “
Motivation is a very good thing.