Coyotes will explore offseason trade options for captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson

GM Bill Armstrong should have more alternatives than he did last offseason

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This will come as no surprise to those who have been following this saga, but the Coyotes intend to explore trade options for captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson again this summer, sources have confirmed. This time around, Ekman-Larsson appears to be more open to the possibility.

With six seasons remaining on a contract that carries an average annual value of $8.25 million, and an annual salary of $10.5 million for each of the next three seasons, a trade will be no easy task, especially with a flat salary cap for the foreseeable future. Ekman-Larsson’s game has declined significantly over the past several seasons.

He had three goals and 24 points in 46 games last season while averaging just 20:58 of ice time; his lowest average since his rookie year and a drop of more than two minutes from the previous season. His goals for percentage was one of the lowest on the team, per Natural Stat Trick, and his numbers at 5-on-5 were disturbingly low for a player of his stature and pay grade.

Last offseason, the ownership group made it clear to new GM Bill Armstrong (hired in September) that it wanted to trade Ekman-Larsson, but Ekman-Larsson has a full no-move clause, which confounded those efforts. Ekman-Larsson’s agent, Kevin Epp, presented the Coyotes with two teams for which Ekman-Larsson would waive his no-move clause: Vancouver and Boston.

Epp set a 9 a.m. deadline on Oct. 9 for such a trade to be consummated, and when Armstrong couldn’t execute a trade that he felt made sense by that deadline, Epp pulled the plug with a simple text message to me at 9:01 a.m.: “Staying. Time’s up.”

Ekman-Larsson discussed the shock of being mentioned in trade rumors in a lengthy Q&A in November, two months before the season began.

“It affects your confidence,” he said. “You start thinking, ‘I might not be a good player any more. I might be too old.’ At the same time, I understand it’s part of the business.”

Ekman-Larsson leaned heavily on Epp and his trusted circle for advice.

“It was mostly like, ‘Don’t beat yourself up. You’re a good person. You’re a good hockey player,’” he said. “That’s kind of the advice I got from Kevin and my family and everybody who supports me and knew how this went down. You start thinking about all that stuff and ‘What’s the reason they want to trade me?’ and ‘Why is this happening?’ 

“I feel like I have learned a lot from that. At the end of the day, everybody looks after themselves. I’m not the type of person who looks after myself but I’ve got to work on that a little bit.”

While Armstrong will face the same salary hurdles that he did last offseason, as well as another season of troubling data on the state of Ekman-Larsson’s game, the Coyotes GM will at least have more trade options.

Ekman-Larsson appears to understand that it is time to move on and get a fresh start. The ownership group has made it clear that it does not want him, he has struggled under the weight of the captaincy, and there were times last season where he looked lost in big moments for the team, leading to some incredibly candid moments, like this admission after a 4-2 loss at San Jose late in the season.

Ekman-Larsson has endured a losing culture for most of the past decade in Arizona, as well as some major hardships like the death of his mother. While he loves living here, a change of scenery may do him some good.

The plan for the Coyotes is to explore whatever trade options exist, and then check with Ekman-Larsson’s camp to see if the destination is desirable. Ekman-Larsson’s camp has not given the Coyotes a specific list of acceptable teams, but there are certain teams to which he will not approve a trade and some of those should be fairly obvious. As a veteran player, Ekman-Larsson has earned the right to choose where he lives and that choice won’t be a city such as Winnipeg.

There are a number of possibilities with this trade. There could be another team that believes it can revive Ekman-Larsson’s game with a fresh start (could Edmonton and former coach Dave Tippett fit that bill?). The Coyotes could look for similar contracts to Ekman-Larsson’s that other teams are trying to unload to see if there are players that might have some value. Maybe some of those contracts would even carry a little less term, allowing the Coyotes to chip away at the remaining salary owed. Or, they could choose to retain a portion of Ekman-Larsson’s salary to make a trade work.

However it plays out, it appears all sides are invested in change this time around.

Ekman-Larsson has played all 11 of his NHL seasons in Arizona since the team selected him with the sixth overall pick in 2009. He owns the Coyotes records for goals by a defenseman (128), assists by a defenseman (260), points by a defenseman (388), power-play goals by a defenseman (55), game-winning goals by a defenseman (31) and games played by a defenseman (769).

His 21-goal, 55-point effort in 2015-16 is likely the best single season produced by a Coyotes defenseman and it came one season after he scored 23 goals, a franchise record by a Coyotes defenseman.

Off the ice, Ekman-Larsson has also been a model spokesperson and community asset for the franchise, appearing at countless charitable events. In 2019, he was a finalist for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, which is presented annually “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” He was the Coyotes nominee again this past season, and his relationship with Leighton Accardo was perhaps the strongest of any player on the team.

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Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter: @CraigSMorgan