One year ago, the Arizona Coyotes traded one of the most popular players in franchise history, Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Since being drafted 6th overall in 2009 by then-named Phoenix Coyotes, OEL as he was colloquially called among fans was the heartbeat of the franchise. His play ebbed and flowed, but the adoration he received from fans was unwavering. After Shane Doan’s retirement, he was the heir apparent to the captaincy, and was given the “C” at the start of the 2018-19 season.
Upon his hiring, however, newly named General Manager Bill Armstrong was saddled with the difficult decision of trading the Valley’s favorite player and last connective tissue to a 2012 Cinderella run to the Western Conference Finals. Ekman-Larsson was getting older, his contract was massive, and the team needed what he could only give us via trading him, a future. Here’s the mammoth trade:
What hurt fans almost just as much was also giving up fan-favorite Conor Garland in the trade, who was experiencing a breakout season scoring 39 points in 49 games, while playing with a pace and energy that inspired some confidence in the beleaguered franchise.
At the time, this was a polarizing trade. The fans couldn’t let go of the past were quite upset, while some were thrilled that GM Armstrong was able to wrangle a top-10 draft choice in the draft that day – a draft the Coyotes weren’t originally supposed to make a 1st round selection in due the sins of the past.
But with that 9th overall pick, the Coyotes selected Dylan Guenther, who is now a household name among the Arizona faithful as being an elite winger with 1st line upside. In his most recent campaign with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, Guenther went incendiary scoring an eye-popping 45 goals and 46 assists in 59 games. His playoff pace was equally as impressive, with 13 goals and 21 points in his injury-shortened run to the CHL Memorial Cup.
The money that moved in this trade was equal parts baffling and relieving for the Coyotes, in that it was a miracle the Canucks were willing to absorb 88% of OEL’s massive contract. OEL’s play was declining, and it wasn’t a secret, but then-GM of Vancouver Jim Benning valued the defenseman highly. While moving out short-term overpays like the remainder of Jay Beagle ($3 mil), Loui Eriksson ($6 mil), and Antoine Roussel’s ($3 mil) contracts which were all set to expire after one year, Vancouver was saddled with 6 more years of OEL at $7.26 million. A move that seemed to be a final nail in Benning’s coffin, as he was fired 5 months later.
Today, Guenther is a cornerstone of the team’s future. The 2nd round pick Arizona also received in the OEL deal was used to trade for Jack McBain, a big-body center prospect who is set to play good minutes for Arizona next season and projects as a quality bottom-six center. All of Eriksson, Beagle and Roussel are free agents and aren’t expected to return to Arizona.
While for Vancouver, the Canucks teetered on the brink of playoff contention, as Ekman-Larsson had his worst seasons to date. Conor Garland signed a nice 5-year, $24.7 mil extension with Vancouver, but is already in trade rumors with the new regime in Vancouver looking to retool what they’ve inherited.
Ekman-Larsson will always be remembered fondly in Arizona, there is no doubt. But maybe the best thing he could have done for the future of the franchise was waiving his no-move clause, and allowing a trade to Vancouver.