Trade talk is reportedly ramping up around Arizona Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but the team should be looking at offloading other players first.
It’s not surprising that the Arizona Coyotes are looking at clearing contracts this off-season, with just over $1 million available before Marian Hossa’s contract is placed on LTIR, and the most recent talks suggest Ekman-Larsson is at the forefront of some discussions.
The 29-year-old blueliner has spent his entire career in the desert and, at one time, was considered one of the best defencemen in the entire league - finishing in the top-20 for Norris Trophy voting five times in his career, with two top-10 finishes.
The 2018/19 season even saw OEL finish 11th in Norris voting before a nagging injury appeared to hold him back across the 2019/20 season - seeing him end up with just nine goals and 30 total points in 66 regular-season games.
Ekman-Larsson did, however, follow this up with his best post-season points total with a goal and four total points in nine games against the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche - matching his total in 16 games during the 2011/12 season.
Many people appear to believe that the two-year captain of the Coyotes is on a sharp decline, but he was still on pace to register around 37 points over a full 82 games last season while being asked to play a more defensive style under Rick Tocchet.
Tocchet’s system and coaching style don’t appear to suit Ekman-Larsson’s play style and a move to a team such as Vancouver could see the Swedish defenceman get back to his usual high-level performances, which would make the Coyotes once again appear to be the problem rather than the player.
With new general manager Bill Armstrong on board, it appears as if the Coyotes aren’t willing to simply settle for offloading his contract if that’s truly what will happen - with many rumors suggesting that they are holding out for a first-round draft pick as well as a player that can slot into their top four on the blueline.
While sending his contract elsewhere would certainly alleviate some of the issues they have with their cap space, there are a number of other players that should be moved ahead of him as they would allow for cap space to be freed up and would allow Armstrong to truly re-tool the roster in more than just one spot.
This process has already been started, with the team placing Michael Grabner on waivers today for the purposes of buying him out.
Alex Goligoski has just one year left on a $5.475 million deal and could be a solid veteran rental for teams looking to win next year.
The same could also be said for Derek Stepan, whose $6.5 million deal could suit a team needing veteran leadership while costing very little in real money, something that has been looked at extensively.
With just these two players, the Coyotes could clear out almost $12 million, potentially acquiring a couple of assets in return that can be used later down the line.
Ekman-Larsson is the leader on this team and still has a number of good years ahead of him and it would be disappointing to see him depart in such a manner when there are players that will walk for nothing next year that could be offloaded and earn assets, even minor ones, in the process.
There is also talk that the Coyotes would need to take on a bad contract in a deal, with Loui Eriksson of the Vancouver Canucks the most regularly commented on, which isn’t something the team should do.
If the cost of offloading OEL’s deal is taking on another bad one, then is it really worth parting ways with the captain at all?
The three aforementioned players would all benefit the Coyotes if they were moved, both financially as well as in terms of their return, with teams around the league needing their individual skill sets.
Why take on extra cost just to let Ekman-Larsson go, when even more value could be gained from making other deals? This doesn’t add up and other players on this Arizona Coyotes roster should be up for grabs before OEL’s name is even mentioned.
Tocchet’s deal is up in a year and if the Coyotes don’t show progress, or continue to show decline across a full season, then a new coach can be brought in with a new mentality that can help the captain get back to his usual self.