Boston Bruins

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 31: Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 of the Arizona Coyotes skates onto the ice during the NHL game against the St. Louis Blues at Gila River Arena on December 31, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Blues 3-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Well, here we are again: Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson wants out and the Coyotes are once again looking for a trade partner.

If you remember, it was just last year the Arizona captain made it clear that he wanted out of his situation with the Coyotes, but added that he would only accept a trade to either Boston or Vancouver. Ekman-Larsson’s agent set a deadline on a deal, the deadline passed without a trade, and OEL remained a Coyote for an 11th season.

This time around, it appears that things have changed in regards to the approach.

“The two sides are going to try again, but this time around they’re going to approach it differently,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said. “What Ekman-Larsson has told the Coyotes and what the Coyotes have agreed to do is they’re going to go out there, check the market and they’re going to bring a deal to him and then he can decide if he’s comfortable with that team.”

Ekman-Larsson, of course, has six years at $8.25 million per year left on his current contract, and possesses a full no-movement clause through the entirety of that contract, meaning any trade will involve the 29-year-old’s approval.

And while Ekman-Larsson may be willing to expand his horizons, but if the Bruins were on his list just last year, it’s likely that they remain of interest to him. The Bruins are still looking for that ‘elusive’ left-shot, minute-eating defenseman, too.

“The elusive left D we’ve been looking for that can chew up a lot of minutes [and] maybe play on the second pairing with Carlo,” Bruins president Cam Neely said earlier this month. “That’d be more of a shutdown or some puck movement. Some offensive blue line acumen. As we saw, you can never have enough D and we never seem to have enough.”

In other words, the interest on both sides could still be there.

But the Coyotes are certainly going to have to temper their expectations on the return. Last year it was believed that the Coyotes’ ask in an Ekman-Larsson trade included a first-round pick (the Coyotes do not have a first this year due to combine testing violations), a young defenseman, and an NHL contract to help offset the outgoing $8.25 million cap hit. According to sources, the Coyotes were unwilling to retain any salary on a potential Ekman-Larsson deal last offseason.

That’s simply not happening this year. Not if your GM is doing his job, anyway.

While Ekman Larsson’s offensive numbers had a slight rebound in 2021 with 24 points in 46 games (his 0.52 points per game were his fourth-best single season mark, and best since 2018-19), his minus-17 rating was tied with Phil Kessel for worst on the Coyotes, and his 20:58 per night was the second-lowest nightly average of his career behind his 15:02 per night as a rookie.

Ekman-Larsson also ranked last among Arizona defensemen in both hits and blocks per 60 minutes, his shots-for percentage (44.77%) was second-worst among Coyote defenders, and his goals-for percentage (38.71%) was the sixth-worst among all Arizona skaters. Extend it outside of Arizona and among the 129 defensemen with at least 700 five-on-five minutes in 2021, and Ekman Larsson’s shots-for percentage was the sixth-worst and his goals-for percentage was the ninth-worst in hockey.

Ekman-Larsson, who turns 30 in July, simply isn’t an $8.25 million per year defenseman in 2021.

That said, if the price drops — and in more ways than one — it’ll be interesting to see if the Bruins re-enter the picture and hope that their system (and a potential partnership with either Carlo or Charlie McAvoy) would be enough to re-vitalize Ekman-Larsson’s game. Their interest may be dictated by what the free agent market and other trade options present to them, too, as the Black and Gold certainly have the cap space to make a significant upgrade to their defense is they can find a willing party.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.