There has been lots of talk this season about upcoming free agents in the 2019 class. This is a stacked free agent class, as it boasts players like Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Ryan Ellis, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Nikita Kucherov. This class has 2 of the best 5 players in the NHL right now, and also 3 more legit top pair D-men. So it is no wonder that there has been heavy conversation already about where people may go. Two names that started a firestorm were Drew Doughty, and even more so Erik Karlsson. One name however has not caused as much buzz, and that is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Maybe the lack of talk is because he plays in Arizona. The consensus I see on Twitter is people seem to expect he is going to leave Arizona. I mean, Arizona has been bad since he has got there. Is there really a reason he would want to stay? I think there are many reasons, and I am going to share them with you.
#1. Arizona Can Afford Him
Everyone knows about Arizona and their budget. The Coyotes are a team that constantly loses money. This is because of many different reasons, including their location, market, and the fact their team hasn’t been truly good in a while. The budget concerns often lead to them being right at, or below the cap floor. They even had to take on Pavel Datsyuk‘s empty cap hit the other year. This was just to get themselves to the floor. This is why when it comes to OEL’s next deal the Coyotes can pay him. I would imagine Ekman-Larsson will be in the market to make 8-10 million over 7 or 8 years. If the Coyotes do give out this big money deal it allows them to do a few things. First, it helps them be competitive as Ekman-Larsson is a legit #1 D. This should help them draw more fans than if they don’t have OEL, which helps profit. Second, if Arizona is still cheap and doesn’t want to spend much, this contract will help guarantee they hit the cap floor. This way they won’t have to give up assets for a 7 million cap hit that isn’t even playing for them. The Coyotes can, and sound like they are willing to pay this man his money. This should be a big help in keeping him in Arizona.
#2. The Bright Future
The Coyotes were suppose to be the team that rose up the standings from where they finished last year. After an offseason that saw them bring in some big names like Stepan, Hjalmarsson, Demers, and Raanta; this was the Coyotes’ year to finally take a step forward. They started by going 0-10-1, and not getting their first win until 20 games in. One of the worst starts in any season by any NHL team ever. Since then, Arizona has gone 9-17-4. This really isn’t amazing either, but it’s at least a 60 point pace rather than a 46 point pace (which they are currently on). Now I don’t think Arizona is anywhere near as bad as this record suggests. It really doesn’t help that the starter they brought in has been injured for a third of the year. So it may seem strange to say reinforcements are on the way, but the Coyotes have some interesting prospects coming up still. Along with breakout star Clayton Keller, the Coyotes currently have Domi, Crouse, Duclair, Perlini, Dvorack, and Chychrun all in the NHL. All of these players are 22 and under, and everyone but Domi and Duclair are on ELC’s right now.
This is an interesting group to begin with, as you have a mix of potential elite talent (Keller), with top 6 forward potential (Domi, Dvorak?), and some solid middle or bottom 6 guys (Crouse, Perlini). On top of all this young talent they still have 3rd overall pick Dylan Strome in the minors. Now Strome doesn’t look like he’ll live up to the hype of a #3 pick, but he has been great in the OHL and AHL. He is definitely a guy that looks like he should eventually be some sort of regular on an NHL roster. They also have 17 other ELC contracts in the minors or in Jr. Names that include Nick Merkley, Ryan MacInnis, and Pierre-Oliver Joseph. This is a team that is super young, and if they can get a top 2 pick this offseason, should be good soon. Ekman-Larsson has lived through this long rebuild, and it seems silly to bolt right as it may be coming to a finish. Just another reason to stay in Arizona.
#3. The Location
Now this one is more of a hypothetical/preference. Everyone is different, and some people may actually prefer cold weather to warm weather. If this is me however, I have no complaints about living somewhere it is above 20 degrees celsius year round. The weather as of right now is 30 degrees warmer in Arizona than Toronto. On top of just the warmth, which may be enough for some people. OEL would also be making 8-10 million dollars to live there. This seems like a pretty sweet deal to me. Arizona also has some of the lowest tax rates in the country. They are much cheaper than places in Canada, and even different states in the USA. This means OEL is making even more money than he would be signing the same deal elsewhere. The location of Arizona may not be the most ideal for a hockey team, but for the players it sure is. The nice weather and added pay is something to strongly consider when planning where to take a 70 million dollar deal.
#4. Arizona Wants Him There
The Coyotes have said and shown that they want to keep OEL. Most teams do the obvious “We would love to keep player X”, but not all teams do anything to prove that. The Coyotes are not that team. They tried to make the team more competitive and show OEL that there’s a future here. While that has kind of backfired this season the effort was there, and there is no real reason they should be this terrible again next year. On top of that, the organization went out and got OEL’s brother, Kevin Ekman-Larsson. They got Kevin from Sweden, and he is currently playing in the AHL. Bringing in a family member who could theoretically join the big club sometime down the road is huge. If that isn’t enough, they also went out and acquired fellow Swede Niklas Hjalmarsson. OEL and Hjalmarsson were friends before Arizona, and this deal helps OEL feel more welcome. It is clear that this team wants OEL to stay, and that has to feel good to him.
Obviously I am no insider, or scout. I have no idea what OEL is thinking, but I think it’s fair to say there is more evidence for him staying than against. Who knows, maybe he decides he needs a fresh start somewhere else and moves, but if that’s not the case I don’t know why he’d leave. OEL has everything he could need in Arizona. Money, teammates, weather, to the future, it is all in Arizona for Oliver Ekman-Larsson.