The Canucks made a painful but critical decision this weekend: they bought out defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s contract.
He had four years left on his contract at an annual salary of 8.2 million on the team’s payroll. We wrote him a check for 19 million before saying goodbye.
The remainder of his salary will be spread over eight years. There will be almost no consequences on the salary cap next season, but his salary will occupy 2.3 million on the mass the following year, 4.7 million from 2025 to 2027 then 2.1 million for four years, according to capfriendly.com
The Ekman-Larsson case symbolizes the bankruptcy of the Canucks in recent seasons. This team had a young and promising core when it reached the second round of the playoffs in 2019. But it has been ruled out of the playoffs for the past three seasons since.
Jim Benning, the predecessor of current general manager Patrik Allvin, wanted to accelerate the rejuvenation process in Vancouver in July 2021. It is often repeated here: the management model of a team matters less than the correctness of the decisions.
Ekman-Larsson had once been one of the NHL’s fine defensemen. But it had regressed by the time it was acquired by Vancouver. He had lost a lot of mobility. Most National Hockey League organizations knew that, except the Canucks, obviously.
The Swedish defender played more than 25 minutes per game between 2012 and 2015. His time in use dropped to 23 minutes in 2018, then to 20:58 in his last season at Arizona, in 2020-2021. Benning should have seen the trap. He stupidly fell into it. Subsequent injuries did not help Ekman-Larsson relaunch his career.
The Coyotes agreed in return to relieve the Canucks of the contracts of Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle and Loui Eriksson for one year.
Arizona drafted a promising forward with the first-round pick. At just 19 years old, Dylan Guenther had 15 points in 33 games for the Coyotes last season. He also topped the Junior League West following his dismissal following the World Junior Championship, scoring 16 goals in 19 playoff games at Seattle.
The second-round pick was used in a trade to acquire exclusive trading rights for American collegiate forward Jack McBain. The 6-foot-3 center played his first NHL season last year in a more defensive role. The 23-year-old had 26 points in 82 games.
Garland is not a villainous attacker. He had 46 points last year. But he has his shortcomings and the Canucks have been looking to trade him for more than a year, without finding a buyer.
Vancouver wouldn’t be in this predicament if they had drafted better. Vancouver Canucks 2015-20 draft manager Judd Brackett got his hands on two gems, Elias Pettersson ranked sixth in 2017 and Quinn Hughes ranked seventh in 2018, but he also came up short in 2016 with Olli Juolevi in fifth place.
The tenth overall pick in 2019, Vasili Podkolzin, drafted ahead of Matthew Boldy and Cole Caufield, among others, is still slow to establish himself in the NHL. He spent half of last season in the American League, where he had 18 points, including seven goals, in 28 games. He will be 22 in July.
Brackett is not responsible for the 2014 vintage, even if he acted as a scout for the Canucks, but Jake Virtanen, drafted sixth overall, ahead of William Nylander, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kevin Fiala and Dylan Larkin among others, constituted a resounding failure. Virtanen was kicked out of Vancouver on an accusation of sexual misconduct, his career was already not going well, and he now plays in Germany.
An organization will occasionally miss in the draft. But getting it wrong three out of five times with a top-ten pick, and trading a sixth for Ekman-Larsson, is unforgiving.
There is work to be done at the Canucks to get back on track. Ekman-Larsson’s contract buyout is a step in the right direction. It’s also going to be about getting it right with the 11th overall pick next week.
Already without captain Gabriel Landeskog, absent again next year due to injury, the Avalanche can at least count on the return of Valeri Nichushkin, 47 points in 53 games last year.
Nichushkin had left the team after Game 2 of the first-round series against The Kraken under unclear circumstances. He would have been involved in a dramatic situation in a hotel in Seattle. A 28-year-old woman was taken to hospital by ambulance with severe intoxication. She would have hit Nichushkin according to the Avalanche doctor’s version.
The Avalanche forward, however, has not been charged in this case and is not the subject of a police investigation. Nichushkin is expected in training camp in September, a team spokesperson confirmed to the Denver Gazette this weekend.