Is Oliver Ekman-Larsson the answer for the Bruins?
Sure, maybe. Although, let’s keep in mind, it remains a question as to whether the Bruins will have to find anyone to replace Torey Krug as their power-play specialist/QB.
Still on course to hit the open market as of noon Friday, Krug could end up staying on Causeway St. That will depend on whether the Red Wings, or someone else shopping frantically for a power-play rainmaker, shakes out the PayPal account and ties him up for, say, 7 years/$50 million. Or more.
If that price point sounds high for Krug, even in this cap-strapped COVID market, look back at unrestricted free agents periods of the past, including July 1, 2016, when the Bruins stuffed $30 million in the pants of 32-year-old David Backes for whatever magic he could muster. Big asks often get big answers.
Backes ended up long on try, but short on magic, and even shorter on points. GM Don Sweeney ultimately was forced to surrender this year’s first-round draft pick in order to shovel Backes to Anaheim and delete his $6 million cap hit from the Bruins' books.
Just as it was painful to hire on UFA Matt Beleskey here on July 1, 2015 (5 years/$18 million) and then tuck him quietly, and mercifully, into the Rick Nash deal that cost the Bruins a first-round pick some 32 months later.
The Bruins won’t make public their last/best offer for Krug, but it could be around 5 years/$32 million. By no means an insult. Also, by no means, something Krug needs to accept at this hour, with the chance someone else out there in the Original 31 will outbid that total payout by some $10 million, $15 million or $20 million. Heck, few among us have turned down that kind of score in recent times.
Meanwhile, back to the landlocked OEL. No way in Jeremy Jacobs’s green garden will Sweeney swallow in full the slick Swede’s deal and its $8.25 million cap hit through the spring of 2027. Not happening. Which is the lone guarantee we have in this entire “What of OEL” exercise.
To deal Ekman-Larsson here by the end of business on Friday — a deadline set by his agent early this week — the Coyotes would have to hold back enough of his promised pay to something around that same $6 million-a-year neck of the woods the Bruins are willing to pay Krug. Also, the Bruins would have to surrender a legit roster play, be it the likes of RFA Jake DeBrusk or Brandon Carlo, the latter of whom has made himself a comfy fit on the right side as Krug’s partner.
Ekman-Larsson, with the right to turn down any trade, reportedly has informed the Coyotes that he’ll only go to Vancouver. Maybe Canucks GM Jim Benning can structure a better, more palatable swap, but that seems doubtful. Word has it that the new Coyotes GM, Bill Armstrong, asked Benning for ex-BC tender Thatcher Demko. The quick answer was: No.
All considered, unless the variables change dramatically, Ekman-Larsson is likely staying put in the desert. He would be a superb fit in Detroit, where fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom starred for a generation, but that’s not a city or a franchise anyone currently is eager to embrace.
Krug, a Michigan homeboy, may be an exception in that regard, but no doubt even he would wince when considering the downgrade in cities, Detroit vs. Boston, before singing up with the Winged Wheels.
Ekman-Larsson is smooth, bigger than Krug (6 feet 2 inches vs. 5-9) and a better all-around defender than the downsized Krug. However, he is not Krug’s equal for dancing the line on the power play and making things happen on the advantage. One caveat there, however: He also hasn’t had the pleasure of working behind such primo forwards as David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand on the Coyotes power play.
Keep in mind, too, that Ekman-Larsson works these days under the watch of coach Rick Tocchet, whose approach to the game is north-south, while Bruce Cassidy is just fine with creative, skilled blueliners.
The bet here is that Ekman-Larsson would thrive here with the Black and Gold and possibly boost his offensive output toward 60 points a season — a significant jump for a player who has averaged roughly 0.5 points per game over his 10 NHL seasons. He definitely has that level of skill. His numbers have been muted on a franchise that, for much of his stay there, barely has been a cut above the AHL.
Bruins fans would like him. Teammates would embrace him — for his size, skill and Swedish good-guy temperament (see: the ever-smiling P.J. Axelsson).
If not for that gaudy, ungodly $8.25 million cap hit, Sweeney should have been doing handsprings and high kicks this week over the thought of making a deal bringing Ekman-Larsson to town for the kind of money they’re offering Krug.
And if my Zamboni had wings and seating for 180-plus, it just might fly us all to a warm, sandy beach in paradise, with Black and Gold umbrellas in every piña colada.
For now, the best hope for Bruins fans is that Friday comes and goes, the offers for Krug aren’t what he dreamed, and he’s back here for at least the next five or six seasons.
If so, then Ekman-Larsson will be out of sight, out of mind, and we’ll all be focused on the good old days: How to beat Tampa in the playoffs.