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Photo Credit: Downing-USA TODAY Sports

What Does Losing Larsson Mean?

Adam Larsson spent five seasons with the Edmonton Oilers. He played a simple, but effective game. He relished the challenge of trying to shut down offensive players. He started his stationary shifts on the defensive zone (32.2%) more than the offensive zone (21.1%). His role was to try and limit scoring chances, rather than create them. It is a thankless job, but an important one if you want to win.

Larsson isn’t an all star, but he is a solid top-four defender and his departure to the Seattle Kraken will force Oilers General Manager Ken Holland to alter the makeup of his blueline.

Early this morning Frank Seravalli reported Larsson was signing with Seattle. The Kraken have Larsson and hulking Jamie Oleksiak on their blueline. Seravalli also reported they will select Irma native, Carson Soucy, as well as Flames captain Mark Giordano among others. Seattle’s blueline won’t be lacking in size or experience. If you don’t want to watch the expansion draft, just read Seravalli’s twitter feed. He has many of the picks and so does Baggedmilk in his Expansion Day Live Blog.

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WHY DID LARSSON LEAVE?

Sep 17, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson (6) and Vancouver Canucks forward Nikolay Goldobin (77) reach for the puck during the third period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

There were many factors. It clearly wasn’t about money as he signed a four-year deal with a $4m AAV. That was fair market value. Last month I wrote about what contract we should expect Larsson to sign. I looked at recent comparables and came up with four years at $4m.  He didn’t go to Seattle for a bigger payday. If you look at D-men across the NHL who play his style, the $4m AAV is legit, regardless of city or state.

Money wasn’t the main motivator, nor was playing closer to home as he is from Sweden. So why did he leave? There are many factors.

Weather.
A new challenge.
Living by the Ocean.
His best friend Oscar Klefbom won’t be returning.
His father, Robert Larsson, died in Edmonton while visiting Adam in 2018. His mother has only visited once since. It was tough.

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Also: How did he feel in the organization? He was well respected by his teammates. I was told as late as yesterday he was in communication with them and said he still might re-sign. But ultimately he decided he needed a change. That is why they have free agency. So players can choose what they feel is best for them.

However, the Oilers should still look if there was anything they could have done different. Obviously winning more would help, but I’m talking about smaller details.

I’ve had players leave Edmonton and tell me how their new team did little things that mattered, like car services, arranging things for their family, making players feel important and welcome and overall communication. I’m not suggesting Holland didn’t do this — in fact I’ve had players tell me since Holland arrived the communication has improved — but it can take years to change underlying habits.

Larsson made a personal choice, and you have to respect that. But when a player opts to leave and money isn’t the main focus the organization needs to look within to see if it could have done anything different. Maybe the Oilers couldn’t have, but if you want to improve, self-evaluation is a must. If the Oilers think they are doing everything properly then they will never improve.

WHERE DO THEY GO FROM HERE?

Jun 8, 2021; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton (19) looks on against the Tampa Bay Lightning in game five of the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve seen some suggest the Duncan Keith trade cost the Oilers Larsson. I’m unsure how you make that connection. Edmonton had the money to pay Larsson. They even offered a five-year term. The truth is Larsson has been honest from the get go and said he wanted to listen to other offers. Obviously, he liked what Seattle presented. Holland knew this, and I suspect the Keith trade was made once he knew Larsson wasn’t re-signing before July 17th.

Losing Larsson will hurt, but if his departure crushes this team then they weren’t that good to begin with. He wasn’t a top pairing defender. The New York Islanders lost John Tavares to Toronto, and they’ve been in the final four the past two seasons. Losing Larsson should not derail this team. He creates a void, one that can’t be filled internally, but there are other options to consider.

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The challenge is that it might require a series of moves.

They have the cap space to sign Dougie Hamilton. It is worth taking a swing, albeit unlikely they land him. David Savard would be the best option as a top-four defensive-minded RD. They will look at Travis Hamonic. They’ve been in communication with Tyson Barrie who is still under contract with them until next Wednesday.

Being an NHL GM isn’t easy, but Holland’s job is to ice a competitive team again and Holland has known for weeks Larsson leaving was a distinct possibility. Now we will see what their alternative plans were.

OTHER NOTES…

Apr 17, 2021; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets center Mason Appleton (22) and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse (25) watch as Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) blocks a shot in the first period at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers and Mike Smith have a two-year extension in the works. We discussed this last week on my radio show. Of course there is some risk due to him being 39, but if he is the legit backup in the final year of the deal, the $2 million cap hit shouldn’t be an issue. I don’t expect Smith to match last season’s numbers, but if he finishes with a .915-.917sv% he will be good value. This past season Linus Ullmark was 11th among goalies with at least 15 starts, with a .917sv%. Connor Hellebuyck, Elvis Merzlikins and Igor Shesterkin were 12th-14th at .916 and Cam Talbot and Thatcher Demko were tied for 15th at .915sv%.

Dmitri Samorukov is training in Edmonton. He’s 22 and has played one season in the AHL and another in the KHL. He will come to camp and push for job on left defence. Don’t sleep on him making a strong push to make the team.

Also, Evan Bouchard is getting rave reviews for his off-season training. I chuckle when people scoff when a player is in great conditioning. It isn’t always the case. It should be, but it isn’t, and younger players who want to play a big role need to maximize their strength and speed gains as much as they can in the off season. Bouchard learned a lot being around the team last season and he is confident he can play an important role this year.

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Edmonton plans to make a strong push for Zack Hyman. I’m told they are meeting with him today to discuss a contract (Leafs have given permission). I sense it will be six or seven year deal if they agree. Ideally, for me, his AAV would not surpass $5m to $5.4m.

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