By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins continue to find themselves linked to Arizona Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
First linked to the defenseman by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Bruins (and Edmonton Oilers) were once again linked to the 29-year-old Swede on the latest edition of TSN Insider Trading, this time by Darren Dreger. And adding context to his report Wednesday, Dreger gave a brief glimpse into the price it would cost to pry OEL away from Arizona.
Starting with the first-round pick, it’s worth noting that the Bruins do not possess their 2020 first-round pick. They traded that to Anaheim in the Ondrej Kase deal. The Bruins have always been reluctant to trade first-round draft picks under Don Sweeney (the B’s 2018 deadline move for Rick Nash was the only other trade involving a first-round pick), but the Coyotes do not possess a first in either 2020 (they moved that for Taylor Hall) or 2021 (they lost that for violating the NHL’s combine testing policy), so you’d imagine that there’s definite flexibility in terms of the year.
In other words, the Coyotes probably just want a first back in their possession, regardless of the year. That obviously helps a team without a ’20 first like the Bruins.
As for the young, developing blue liners, the list likely begins with 2017 first-round pick Urho Vaakanainen. Jeremy Lauzon and Connor Clifton (the Coyotes actually drafted Clifton with a fifth-round back in 2013) could be included, but Vaakanainen projects to have a higher ceiling, making him the likeliest ask on the part of the Coyotes.
The 21-year-old Vaakanainen, who has appeared in seven total NHL games since the start of the 2018-19 season, totaled five goals and 14 points with a plus-18 in 54 game with the P-Bruins this past season. Vaakanainen is considered a defense-first defender capable of making a strong first pass, but is slowly-but-surely adding a bit more offensive pop to his game.
“He’s always gonna have that defensive aspect to his game, always gonna be competitive,” P-Bruins head coach Jay Leach said of Vaakaninen. “But the offensive stuff is starting to come bit more naturally to him and that’s just fine with us.”
But things get a little tricky when it comes to money-matching.
The Bruins ditched David Backes and his $6 million per year hit in the aforementioned Kase deal. Almost entirely, too, retaining $1.5 million of his $6 million due through next season. Backes really would’ve been the best player to throw into a hypothetical deal for Ekman-Larsson, too.
That’s because there’s really not too many terribly expensive contracts on the Bruins.
Not ones that you’d want to move, anyway.
The closest thing to a contract the Bruins would in theory want to move as part of a move for Ekman-Larsson would be John Moore ($2.75 million for the next three seasons) or Nick Ritchie (just under $1.5 million and a restricted free agent at the end of next season). Keep in mind that Ekman-Larsson is on the hook for a staggering $8.25 million for the next seven seasons, so they’re not exactly equal tradeoffs from a financial standpoint.
What will be most interesting, however, is how the Coyotes want to play an Ekman-Larsson move.
If this is a pure cash-dump on the part of the always-broke Coyotes, who are under new ownership once again and are reportedly behind on payments to the arena manager, perhaps that deal works for them. And with the cap opening up over the next couple of years — the B’s top two cap hits, owned by David Krejci and Tuukka Rask, are coming off the books next year –the Bruins are built to handle that cap hit. But from a hockey standpoint, it’s probably not fair value. It’s not hard to imagine the Oilers — or the Flames, who have also been linked to the Arizona captain — beating the B’s offer.
The rumor mill will only continue to heat up from here, too, with the 2020 NHL Draft and start of free agency all within about a week’s time.