How Should the Canucks Replace Oliver Ekman-Larsson

By: Brayden Fengler / June 26, 2023  

With Oliver Ekaman-Larsson now officially out of the picture after his buyout at the hands of Patrick Allvin, his pending absence next season certainly brings with it a lot of questions. Many of those questions involve what the Canucks will do with the cap space created, and how they will look to fill OEL’s position on the ice.

With a lot still yet to happen this off-season, the ramifications of this move are hard to map out in full, but with only a few months before training camp, there is certainly enough to paint a fuzzy picture of the road ahead.

Production Lost

OEL famously came with a cap hit of $8.25 million, a cap hit that many players would be hard-pressed to live up to, but in OEL’s case (especially last season), he wasn’t even coming close to what should be expected from a defenceman making that much. The 31-year-old Swede saw an average of over 20 minutes of ice per night through his 54 games last season.

Within that campaign, he was below a .5 point per night player, only totaling 22 points on the year. Sure, defencemen don’t need to find the back of the net to have value, but at over eight million against the cap, it would’ve been nice considering his heavy deployment.

The trajectory of OEL’s contract drastically contrasting with his production was something that nearly everyone saw coming when former Canucks GM Jim Benning made the deal that brought OEL and Conor Garland over to the Canucks.

Even though Ekman-Larsson was the blockbuster name with the blockbuster contract, Garland was almost immediately looked at as the one potential saving grace of the deal, due to his passionate style of play, respectable production, and significantly cheaper price tag.

With that said, it’s hardly surprising that OEL’s production was continuing to stagnate, and it made the reality of an OEL buyout feel inevitable. One plus side of all of this is that due to OEL’s lackluster numbers, the Canucks don’t have to worry about replacing his offensive production next year.

Canucks Defence Right Now

Looking purely at the position, what no doubt made this buyout an even easier decision is the fact that out of left and right-side defencemen, the Caucks have had a long-running problem fixing their right side. With OEL being an LD as opposed to a RD, his absence will inherently have less of an impact on the Canucks overall depth chart, and their existing problems.

Currently, Quinn Hughes and Filip Hronek sit atop the Canucks depth chart in regard to left and right-shot defencemen, followed by Travis Dermott and Tyler Myers. In the 11 games that Travis Dermott played for the Canucks last year his defensive abilities were respectable.

However, his sample size of production last season was small due to his battle with concussion-related symptoms after a preseason injury. The chaos giraffe himself Tyler Myers also has his own set of regularly occurring inconsistencies and problems.

The disparity between the top pairing and the rest of the Canucks defence is staggering. The Canucks extended left shot defenceman Guillaume Brisebois for another two years, so they are no doubt hoping that he can work his way up the depth charts a little bit. With a sample size of only 17 games with the Canucks last year, his ability to produce over the bulk of a season is still a gamble.

Noah Juulsen is perhaps the club’s best internal hope for an improvement to the team’s left side. Over his two years with the franchise, Juulsen has spent the majority of his time in Abbotsford, playing only 20 games for Vancouver between this year and last.

His contributions in Abbotsford have been respectable if they could now be translated into the NHL. At 6ft tall and 26 years old, Juulsen is an aggressive player with production in the minors similar to that of OEL’s last season in the majors.

he earned 20 points in 49 games, with the bulk of this production coming from assists. Juulsen is by no means a fix for the Canucks, but if he can make the leap to the NHL now that he’s in the back half of his 20’s, perhaps he could become a more useful bottom pair piece for the club.

Who’s Out There?

In a lot of different ways the Canucks need help from the outside if they are hoping to remain competitive this season. But they also need to avoid paying out the nose for a player that is only marginally better than Oliver Ekman-Larsson. If the defence market was easy for buyers, the Canucks would’ve successfully fixed their RD problem a long time ago.

The Arizona Coyotes have a 23-year-old left-shot defenceman in the middle of their defensive depth chart, J.J. Moser, who is an RFA at the end of this season and boasted a 31-point season last year after playing a full 82 games.

Moser was heavily utilized by the Yotes, averaging over 21 minutes of ice per night. On a losing team like Arizona, his numbers are extra impressive. The Coyotes are struggling both on and off the ice right now, so there may be some room to maneuver a deal for a younger player like Moser.

If the Canucks want to avoid a price tag that Moser might demand, while still going younger, they could look at other pending RFA’s after next season to trade for and sign. Players like Pierre-Olivier Joseph. Pierre-Olivier played a total of 75 games for the Penguins last season and earned 21 points in the process. He’s a very physical player, he hits a lot, and his CORSI for percentage was consistently about 50% last season.

With the Pens experiencing significant off ice shake-ups this season, a player like Pierre-Olivier could either be one they look to build around, or one that goes out in a trade to make them better elsewhere. Perhaps he could be a nice addition to the Canucks somehow through the long hoped for J.T. Miller trade to Pittsburgh?

More to Come

Like most buy-outs, they don’t tend to happen to a player who is producing at a level expected of them. Perhaps the smart move for the Canucks is to focus on the prospects that they already have in the pipeline and sit back and wait for trade opportunities to come to them, rather than actively shopping for a minute munching OEL replacement. There is still plenty that can change between June and October when the next season kicks off.