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Coyotes GM John Chayka dismisses Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade rumors

FILE - In this April 2, 2107, file photo, Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23), of Sweden, passes the puck as Los Angeles Kings Adrian Kempe (39), of Sweden, defends during an NHL hockey game in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Hartog, File)
LISTEN: John Chayka, Coyotes GM

There have been rumors swirling that Arizona Coyotes top defenseman Oliver-Ekman Larsson is available on the trade block.

Yet, when general manager John Chayka is asked about those rumors, he is quick to dismiss them.

In an interview with 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station on Wednesday, Chayka joked to Doug Franz of Doug & Wolf that Franz is “terrible at reading the tea leaves” after he asked whether Ekman-Larsson could be on the move. Chayka said winning teams in the NHL build around stars, and the Coyotes are looking to “stabilize things.”

He also added that Ekman-Larsson has not expressed discontent with playing in Arizona.

“He’s never once complained to me or talked about greener pastures,” Chayka said.

By many accounts, Ekman-Larsson has not had a great start to the season. Neither did his team as a whole, and Chayka deflected some of the blame for that poor start away from the 26-year-old defenseman.

“He’ll be the first one to tell you, he didn’t think he had a great start to the year,” Chayka said. “I think it’s difficult — it’s tough to defend when you’re not getting goaltending. We had historically bad goaltending, that’s just a fact.”

Indeed, the Coyotes were without starting netminder Antti Raanta for most of the first month of the season. They’ve also been without defenseman Jakob Chychrun and recently lost top-4 defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to injury. Chayka cited all of those injuries as factors that haven’t helped Ekman-Larsson.

Chayka intimated that those defensemen getting back healthy could require Ekman-Larsson to play fewer minutes each night (his total time on ice this season is third in the NHL and his average TOI per game is 20th), and that the Coyotes are currently “asking a lot of Oliver.”

If the Coyotes were to trade Ekman-Larsson, they could get a big haul for the young star. At just 26 years old, he has played more than 500 NHL games, has been an All-Star and has twice finished in the top 10 for Norris Trophy voting. In back-to-back seasons (2014-16), he was in the top 5 in the league in goals scored by a defenseman (No. 1 in 2014-15).

And in the most recent example of a star getting traded, when the Colorado Avalanche dealt center Matt Duchene last week in a three-team trade, Colorado got back a whopping seven assets from the Senators and Predators: an 18-year-old center, a goaltender, a 19-year-old defenseman, a 21-year-old forward and three draft picks.

Still, Chayka insists that he’s not having serious discussions about moving Ekman-Larsson.

“I’ve been on the record numerous times about the subject and have been very clear,” Chayka told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Craig Morgan on Tuesday. “I haven’t had a single conversation about Oliver that has lasted more than five seconds.”

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