Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Larsson is a long-term solution to a longstanding problem for the Edmonton Oilers

2016-17 Edmonton Oilers: No. 6 RD Adam Larsson

The Edmonton Oilers gave up a lot to add Adam Larsson to their team; possibly even too much. Nevertheless, there is no denying the fact that Larsson is a valuable player who fills a position of dire need for the Oilers cheaply and effectively and for a long time to come.

It’s important to separate the player from the acquisition cost. Regardless of whether you feel Taylor Hall was an elite even-strength player and a massive overpay, or that 200 hypothetical hockey men would all unanimously agree that the Larsson trade was a win for Edmonton, the trade was entirely outside of the defenceman’s control.

What has been inside the defenceman’s control is his play, which went more-or-less as expected.

When Larsson was acquired, there was hope among some fans that he was a late-bloomer offensively. GM Peter Chiarelli himself sent mixed signals, stating repeatedly in his post-acquisition press conference that the defenceman “had more skill to show” before ultimately declaring, “he’s not a sexy defenceman.”

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Where that hope existed, it was misplaced. Larsson didn’t get power play minutes, and delivered roughly what he always does at even-strength, collecting 19 points on the season.

The offence was a hope. The defence was an expectation, and there Larsson delivered. Projected as a matchup defenceman who could start a lot of shifts in the defensive zone and against talented opponents, he did just that. As a bonus, he brought some welcome snarl to confrontations along the boards and in front of the net.

It’s worth taking a moment here to go into Larsson’s plus/minus. Larsson was plus-24 on the season, which for a certain type of analyst is a good place to stop looking and declare victory. But the real story is told when we delve into that number.

The Road Ahead

Larsson was a 50 percent Corsi player and 51 percent Fenwick player at even-strength. In either case that puts him at right about the team average in terms of puck possession, which is a formidable achievement for a player in a tough minutes role. He did well regardless of partner; very well with Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera, passably so with Kris Russell, while playing tough minutes in each.

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Plus-24 is not a “good in a tough minutes role” number, though. That’s an elite number, a play-driving number. It’s also misleading. Edmonton’s save percentage, which might potentially be attributable to Larsson’s presence dipped (very slightly) when he was on the ice relative to when other defencemen were. The team’s shooting percentage, on the other hand, exploded, and as a result Edmonton scored more than 3.0 goals per hour when he was on the ice. The only Oilers with a better number were Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon, the team’s top line for much of the year.

Given Larsson’s modest offence, it’s difficult to attribute this ridiculous offence to him, and if it wasn’t attributable to him it seems likely that his on-ice goal numbers will fall more in line with his on-ice shot metrics next season.

That would be perfectly alright, though. All the Oilers need from Larsson is for him to be part of a pairing that wins battles in the most difficult minutes. He does that. He’s only 24 and signed for four more years at a modest cap hit, so he’s a long-term solution in that role. Edmonton needed a right-shot defenceman who could play those minutes and now they have one.

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Bottom line: Love or hate the trade that brought him to Edmonton, Larsson did a good job in a tough assignment in 2016-17 and should continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Previous year-end reviews:

    • CMG30

      Too many people keep pretending that that those who were angry with the trade didn’t like Larson. Anybody who believes this should go back and read the comments. The people angry were angry at the waste of an asset, the massive overpay. Larson filled the hole on the back end adequately but it’s a hole that didn’t need to be there, not if the Oilers had handled the Petry/Schultz situation properly. The Oil could have made the same deal, but from a position of strength and gotten a far better return.

    • NateDog07

      You’re not wrong, but Chia had to deal with the hand he was dealt. I think he made the most of a bad situation and the team is better because of it. The cap hit that Larsson is, given the job that he does on the top pair, will be hugely valuable when we sign Drai/Connor vs getting a “better return” for a larger cap hit

    • Jonathan Willis

      Larsson was awfully good, but he ended up fourth among Oilers defencemen in average ice-time, as well as fourth in average penalty-kill ice-time (where you’d expect him to be top option). I think you’ve got a case, but based on usage it would appear that Todd McLellan didn’t see things as that clear-cut. I don’t either; for all his usefulness, Larsson is something of a defensive specialist, and the versatility of Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera to play multiple roles (including offensive) gives them a leg up in my view. But, as I said, it’s a question reasonable people can have different answers to.

      • Spydyr

        Was he the best offensive defenceman not even close. Was he the hardest defenceman for the other team to play against not even close. Was he the most physical defencman again not even close. Was he the guy that was on the penalty kill or for the last minute when the team was protecting a lead, yes.

  • Homer

    Change for a perpetual losing franchise is a good thing so I was excited to so it finally happen I’m willing to admit that I wasn’t sure what we where getting but hindsight says that trade was a win! Hall didn’t help NJ win as much as Larrson helped us