The Oilers inked the No. 1 overall pick from the 2011 draft to a long-term contract last week. Next up, they have the No. 4 overall pick from that same draft.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ eight-year deal will very likely take him to the end of his NHL career. Given the nature of contracts for defensive defencemen, Adam Larsson won’t be getting such a deal, but this summer represents his best opportunity to get paid while he’s still in his prime.
Larsson was drafted by the Devils and jumped into the NHL immediately, appearing in 65 games and logging 20:37 per night as a 19-year-old in 2011-12. The following couple of seasons saw Larsson bounce back and forth between the NHL and the AHL as he adapted to the North American game. By 2014-15 and 2015-16, he established himself as a top-four defenceman in New Jersey, logging an average of 21:50 per game between those two seasons.
During the 2016 off-season, Larsson got shipped to Edmonton in the infamous one-for-one deal in exchange for Taylor Hall. Though most will argue Edmonton should have received more for Hall, Larsson is a very good defender in his own right.
Larsson was a key cog for the Oilers in 2016-17 when they ended their decade-long playoff drought, forming an excellent pairing alongside countryman Oscar Klefbom. He dealt with a combination of personal trauma and injuries over the next few seasons but bounced back in 2021 to put together arguably his most effective season in Edmonton.
Among the 111 defencemen in the NHL who played at least 750 even-strength minutes in 2021, Larsson had the 16th lowest expected goals against (based on shot volume and quality).
This is particularly impressive given the difficult role Larsson played on Dave Tippett’s blueline. The team’s top pair often got the boost of playing with Connor McDavid and the bottom pairing was generally sheltered in offensive minutes. That means the second pair anchored by Larsson was going up against top competition without having the luxury of having Edmonton’s top forwards on the ice with them.
Long story short, we saw a healthy Larsson last season, a player no longer battling through a nagging back injury, and he was excellent.
According to agent J.P. Barry via The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman, the Oilers and Larsson are working towards a new contract…
“We’re making progress on a contract. Sometimes teams like to move quicker than players. He’s just thinking about everything. We’re getting there. There are a few things we can still discuss.
We’d like to get some term. He’s a pretty young free agent defenseman.”
We’ve also heard that other teams around the league, such as the Philadelphia Flyers, are interested in Larsson. Given the strong season he just had, many will be calling about Larsson if he reaches the open market.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday ACTUALLY ON A WEDNESDAY edition question. How high would you go on Larsson’s next contract? Would you look for an RNH-type deal that features more term in order to drive down his cap hit?
For the sake of comparison, here are the defensive defencemen from last fall’s free-agent class and the deals that they signed, along with Larsson’s stats from 2021…
2019-20 Statistics: 63 games, 2 goals, 15 points, 16:44 average time on ice, 49.4 expected goals for percentage
Contract: Florida Panthers, three years, $2,500,000 cap hit
2019-20 Statistics: 59 games, 0 goals, 10 assists, 20:09 average time on ice, 53.9 expected goals for percentage
Contract: Winnipeg Jets, four years, $3,000,000 cap hit
2019-20 Statistics: 62 games, 4 goals, 9 assists, 17:35 average time on ice, 53.6 expected goals for percentage
Contract: St. Louis Blues, four years, $3,275,000 cap hit
2019-20 Statistics: 68 games, 7 goals, 13 assists, 18:27 average time on ice, 45.3 expected goals for percentage
Contract: Montreal Canadiens, four years, $3,500,000 cap hit
2019-20 Statistics: 69 games, 1 goal, 13 assists, 19:27 average time on ice, 52.2 expected goals for percentage
Contract: Washington Capitals, four years, $3,900,000 cap hit
2019-20 Statistics: 69 games, 2 goals, 18 assists, 19:32 average time on ice, 53.9 expected goals for percentage
Contract: Calgary Flames, four years, $4,500,000 cap hit
2020-21 Statistics: 44 games, 3 goals, 5 assists, 19:41 average time on ice, 50.7 expected goals for percentage
Expiring Contract: Six years, $4,166,666 cap hit
If I’m Larsson’s agent, I would be pointing to Chris Tanev’s deal last fall with Calgary as the base for his next contract. Tanev was a very, very good shutdown defender for the Canucks in the first half of the 2010s but injuries derailed him in the latter half of the decade. In 2019-20, Tanev played his first fully healthy season in years and earned himself a nice contract. This indicates what a good defensive defenceman is worth on the open market despite the risk and history of injury.
The thing with Larsson is that the Oilers don’t currently have anybody ready to step into his role as the team’s premier shutdown defender on the second pair. With fellow free-agent defenceman Tyson Barrie, Edmonton can afford to let him walk because Evan Bouchard appears poised to jump into his role.
If the Oilers let Larsson walk, they would have to replace him with an external addition. Dougie Hamilton is the only right-handed defender clearly better than Larsson on the open market this summer, and other possible free-agent upgrades such as Alec Martinez and Jamie Oleksiak play the left side.
Getting Larsson signed would be ideal given how difficult it would be to replace him. That said, Ken Holland has to be careful given Larsson is turning 29 years old in November and it’s obviously difficult to say exactly how he’ll age.
What say you, Nation? Would you be comfortable giving Larsson the same deal Tanev earned last off-season? Is he worth that much? Is there a better option out there for the Oilers to sign instead? Let us know!
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