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Coyotes, Ekman-Larsson reach verbal agreement on eight-year extension

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Coyotes have reached a verbal agreement with defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson on an eight-year contract extension, multiple sources told ArizonaSports.com on Monday. The contract extension will kick in for the 2019-20 season.

ArizonaSports.com reported previously that the two sides were discussing an eight-year extension with an average annual value of $8.25 million per year. It is unclear if those terms have changed, but the Coyotes felt confident enough that the deal would get done that they have told other teams he was not available in a trade, sources said. Had the agreement not been reached prior to the NHL Draft in Dallas from June 22-23, the Coyotes may have considered trading him.

Ekman-Larsson has one year remaining on a six-year, $33 million deal that began in the 2013-14 season and will pay him $7 million in salary for the 2018-19 season. He is eligible to sign this extension on July 1 after the 2017-18 NHL year officially ends.

While other teams, particularly those in Canadian or large U.S. markets, could have offered Ekman-Larsson a higher AAV if he were to reach unrestricted free agency after next season, the lower cost of living in Arizona likely mitigated those differences. In addition, per terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Arizona is the only team that can offer Ekman-Larsson the additional eighth year. Other clubs could offer him a maximum of seven years.

Despite reports to the contrary, Ekman-Larsson said numerous times throughout the season that his desire was to remain with the Coyotes.

“I would obviously like to figure something out,” he said during exit interviews at Gila River Arena on April 10. “I’ve said it so many times. This is where I want to be.”

Ekman-Larsson had 42 points (14 goals, 28 assists) in 82 games last season. He led the team in average ice time per game at 23:40. He had six goals and 13 assists over the final two months (plus three April games) with a plus-eight rating.

“The last two months he was terrific,” coach Rick Tocchet said. “His leadership was great. I liked the way he played. The team fed off him.”

Like the team, however, Ekman-Larsson got off to a rocky start. He had eight goals and 22 points through the first four months of the season and carried a well-publicized, if imprecise minus-32 rating, the worst in the league.

“I think it took some time to get used to the new coaching staff and the system that we were playing,” he said.

Tocchet admitted that he and Ekman-Larsson weren’t on the same page early in the season.

“The first couple months, he wasn’t good and we had a tough time communicating, but there were a lot of factors to that,” said Tocchet who was hired in part for his communications skills, and eventually took that to heart with Ekman-Larsson.

“I did a better job with him after December, too. I think our communication was better and our relationship got stronger. I take a little responsibility for his first two months because he didn’t know what to expect from me. His practice habits went from OK to outstanding the last two to three months. He knows that is something I have to have from him. When he hits the ice, the pace of practice has to be dictated by him and a few other guys like [Niklas] Hjalmarsson. The young guys are sponges. They watch and they’re impressionable. They have never been anywhere else at the NHL level to understand how things are done. Our practices were outstanding the last couple of months and I give credit to Oliver for that.”

Ekman-Larsson agreed that his relationship with his coach has done an about-face from the start of the season.

“It was like a feeling-out process in the beginning,” he said. “I’m kind of a laid-back guy so I’m not going to go after it and chase to build a relationship. I kind of let it play out and I feel like he was doing a little bit of the same. He was trying to see what kind of person I am.

“We were talking right off the start, but getting to know somebody takes time and he’s got 22 other guys that he needs to keep an eye on, too, and it’s his first year so it’s not easy. I feel like he knows what I think of him now and if we’re going to have success… we need to have a good relationship.”

While Ekman-Larsson has another year remaining on his previous contract, general manager John Chayka made it clear recently that he wanted some clarity from Ekman-Larsson’s camp before the NHL Draft in Dallas from June 22-23.

“We want to put this organization in the best possible situation long-term,” Chayka said. “We want Oliver to be a big part of that. He’s a big rock in this whole building process. To have an indication of where he stands prior to the draft is, I think, important to being able to move forward and being able to build this team out.”

Assuming Ekman-Larsson signs the extension, the Coyotes will have three of their top five defensemen – Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers – signed for at least the next two seasons. Jakob Chychrun will become a restricted free agent after next season so the Coyotes would still maintain significant control over his future.

ArizonaSports.com reported in February that the team is interested in extending Hjalmarsson, who has one year left on a five-year, $20.5 million that will pay him $4 million next season. Sources familiar with those talks said the Coyotes are also close to an agreement with Hjalmarsson who, like Ekman-Larsson, is represented by agent Kevin Epp.

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