The NHL’s buyout window opened up on June 16 for the summer of 2023. On day one of the window, the first buyout belonged to the Vancouver Canucks who bought defenseman Oliver-Ekman Larson out of his previous eight year deal worth $66 million. The Swedish defenseman instantly became an intriguing Unrestricted Free Agent and there is a case to be made that the Tampa Bay Lightning could be a potential landing spot.
The Lightning are expected to have just over $8 million in cap space with a number of free agents to attend to. They also already have eight defensemen currently under contract next season with Ian Cole being the only one currently coming off the books. To say there is not a lot of cap room to work with would be a big understatement.
Ekman-Larsson could be an option for the Lightning to replace the potential exit of Ian Cole on the left side of their d-core. At the right price, Ekman-Larsson could be a potentially high reward reclamation project.
The two seasons in Vancouver for Ekman-Larsson did not go as planned when the Canucks gave up a massive haul to acquire him and Connor Garland from Arizona. Truthfully, not much has gone well for anybody in Vancouver over those two years but especially not for Ekman-Larsson who was being paid like a top-end number one defenseman and the Canucks ultimately decided it was best to pay him to stop playing there.
Depending on what Ekman-Larsson is seeking, Tampa Bay could be a strong destination for him to try and get his career back on track. If he would be willing to sign for $1-2 million for one year and have a chance to prove himself on a winning team, the Lightning could be a place to make that happen.
Ekman Larsson’s estimated career earnings are already upwards of $70 million. Money is probably not a huge factor for him in the short term as he will be turning 32 this summer and could have a few more contracts ahead of him still.
In the summer of 2019, the Lightning took a similar shot on Kevin Shattenkirk who had just been bought out of a big deal with the New York Rangers. Shattenkirk signed in Tampa for just one year at $1.7 million and the rewards for him and the team were great.
In his one season in Tampa, Shattenkirk recorded 34 points and played in every single playoff game as the Lightning went on to win the 2020 Stanley Cup. After that season, Shattenkirk signed a three year deal worth over $11 million with the Anaheim Ducks.
Ekman-Larsson could experience a similar sort of turnaround if Tampa ended up being a landing spot. One thing that benefited Shattenkirk in his one year in Tampa was that he was no longer being counted on to be a top player on defense. Ekman-Larsson could come in and play third pair minutes behind Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev. Playing behind those two would take a huge burden off a player like Ekman-Larsson and allow him to just play his game.
Do not underestimate the attraction of playing on the same blue line as fellow Swedish defenseman in Victor Hedman either. The two are around the same age and have competed together for team Sweden in the past. Hedman could be a familiar face of influence.
One thing working in Ekman-Larsson’s favor is that there are not a ton of high end free agents this summer, especially on defense. This could drive the price up on a potential contract for him out of the Lightning’s price range. Depending on what he wants though, the Lightning can still be a potential suitor.