Talk of Trading OEL Dumbest of the Dumb
“That will never happen”.
Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney on rumours the club would trade number one D man Oliver Ekman-Larsson in order to net the first overall pick at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Simple. Done. Shot down. Over.
That it needed Maloney to come out and say it speaks volumes though – a wild rumour gaining some sort of traction via desperate fans in markets starved of success.
But this one seemed like something particularly special.
The foundations of the rumours centre largely around the fact the top rated prospect for this years draft – Auston Matthews – is a native of Scottsdale, Arizona and represented the Junior Coyotes as a youth.
Matthews arrival in the NHL is seen by many as a significant moment for the NHL, and Gary Bettman. Some kind of marker of success for the franchise – which ‘controversially’ relocated in 1996 – and the sustained support the league and its commissioner have shown the team despite years of financial turmoil (which now, thankfully, seem to be over) and mounting pressure to move the team to a more affluent market.
Matthews is, in some respects, the culmination of a project. A first overall pick and future superstar who will justify moving the team to the sunny surrounding of Phoenix all those years ago. Proof that hockey in Arizona can thrive and provide for future generations.
And if that first overall pick happened to come home, to play for the Coyotes, well of course that would be huge news. An added bonus to an already positive story for the NHL and a great ‘selling point’ for the franchise itself.
The mixture is further thickened by the defensive need of certain teams who might land that coveted first overall pick at the Draft Lottery on April 30th (*cough* Edmonton *cough*).
There were even rumours the Oilers had already made a bid for Ekman-Larsson, which simply fanned the flames and the end result was a strange brew that some seem to drink in a little too quickly in the hopes it will magic away their own teams woes in one swoop.
The whole narrative falls down when we come to actually talking about trading Ekman-Larsson though. Because no General Manager in their right mind would make that move if they were in Maloney’s position.
The 24-year-old Swede is one of the best puck moving defencemen in the NHL, he’s just posted his second 20-goal season and is, quite simply, the Coyotes best blue liner. Perhaps even their best player. He would be almost impossible to replace.
Players of Ekman-Larssons quality simply do not come along very often, and it is even rarer they become available via trade or free agency in the cap era; which is partly why Dougie Hamilton’s move to Calgary last summer was such a big deal.
For all the talent Matthews brings, trading ‘OEL’ to get him would probably set the Coyotes back a step overall. Which would be, speaking plainly, madness given their progress this season.
Arizona doesn’t need Matthews. It would like to see him come ‘home’. Of course it would. But with a depth chart already boasting Dylan Strome and Nick Merkley, as well as getting what is likely to be another high pick at the draft this summer, the club is well stocked with offensive prospects while showing real promise on the ice thanks to young stars like Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Tobias Rieder.
It does however need Ekman-Larsson if it is to continue to move forward.
In an age where fan and media consumption has never been higher, perhaps it should come as no surprise this rumour gained legs. A marquee player, a slow news day and the added intrigue of Matthews birth place.
But in the cold light of reality, only the sheer craziness of the idea kept this one going.
“I think I spit my coffee out,” was team President, CEO and co-owner Anthony LeBlanc’s reaction to the rumour.