Let’s just start with the facts. The Arizona Coyotes are not going to trade Oliver Ekman-Larsson, their young stud defenseman, for Auston Matthews. It’s not going to happen. Anthony LeBlanc would like people to stop talking as if it is an option. Ekman-Larsson is a cornerstone player, face of the franchise and the most likely candidate for the next captain.
The thought of this trade seemed to have started in March after the trade deadline. The Coyotes were struggling to stay afloat when the internet floated out the idea.
This has caused an almost violent reaction from Coyotes ownership and management, and the writers who cover the team. It would be almost self-destruction to trade Ekman-Larsson, so why are people still talking about it?
Maybe it's because hockey in Arizona has been lower on the sports radar than anything else. In March, they are the team that makes watching baseball and basketball hard. In October it’s the only sport on TV until basketball starts again. But the Coyotes are starting to change that perception, and making the playoffs would seal the deal.
Look at the recent success of the Florida Panthers, and you see a young, talented core surrounded by older strong players. But they also have a young, yet solid blue line lead by Brian Campbell, who is a vet, and Aaron Ekblad, who is two years into his career as a franchise defenseman (even if he looks like he's ten years into his career).
But Why Not?
Auston Matthews is a hometown boy with major upside. A potential franchise center, which the Coyotes drafted last year in Dylan Strome, who could come into the league right away and help a team in need. Matthews has been on the radar of Arizona hockey since before he landed with the US National Development Program. The probable first overall pick could potentially bring in more people to the arena, but it’s not a guarantee.
The local angle will always be the biggest draw for someone like Matthews, but as much as it pains me to admit, Matthews will serve Arizona hockey better in a market like Toronto. They will finally highlight how junior hockey is growing in the state and how the hockey landscape is evolving. If hockey fans and young players in Arizona want to be noticed, Auston Matthews in blue and white will help tenfold. The Canadian media may still slight the Coyotes, but they won't be able to slight youth hockey, especially if Auston Matthews comes as advertised.
But Ekman-Larsson is-
Stop. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is only 24 years old and the best defenseman the Coyotes have on their team and system. The narrative people are trying to create of Ekman-Larsson being lazy is comical. He plays against other teams top lines, effectively shutting down some of the best players in the league, all without a true top defense partner.
He also led the team in points for the second year in a row. In his 75 games played this season he notched 21 goals, 34 assists for 55 points, a career high. Of those twenty-one goals, eight were game winning tallies, and two of them were in overtime. Without Ekman-Larsson the team would automatically be down eight wins without even factoring in all the game winning goals he assisted on.
You may not notice all the little things that he does to keep a play going. Things like taking a hit to make a play, frustrating the other teams forwards, creating plays from turnovers and being a general pain for the other team. Ekman-Larsson started slow last season, without a doubt, but he became stronger as the season went on. With Ekman-Larsson not playing in the IIHF World Championships, it will allow him to rest up before the World Cup of Hockey and the 2016-17 season.
It's Just Not Viable
Trading a defenseman for a forward when you do not have a defenseman to replace him with is irresponsible and team damaging.
The trade for Auston Matthews just isn't viable, even if you do offer Oliver Ekman-Larsson and both first rounders. The Leafs have their young defense corps with the likes of Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly, and a new signed Nikita Zaitsev. They are still in rebuilding, but have the advantage of drawing possible free agents, something the Coyotes have struggled with recently for a myriad of reasons.
There is also talk of Edmonton trading their 4th overall for a defenseman, and as much as you want it to happen Oilers fans, it's also not going to happen. Hopefully, Edmonton will do what they should have been doing in recent years and actually draft defense.
Losing Oliver Ekman-Larsson would severely set back the Coyotes rebuild and potentially make the team plummet to 30th, where most people believed they were to be last season. It may waste the best years of Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, and Dylan Strome. That is absolutely unacceptable.
And no, a package of our forward prospects is not an option either. But that's another post to be on the look out for in the near future.