It didn’t take very long for the Arizona Coyotes to emerge as clear winners of their blockbuster trade with the Vancouver Canucks less than a year and a half ago.
Five players and three draft picks changed teams on July 23, 2021, when former Canucks GM Jim Benning swung for the fences.
Needless to say, he struck out.
The Canucks acquired Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland in exchange for three draft picks (No. 9 overall pick in 2021, second-round pick in 2022, seventh-round pick in 2023), Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, and Antoine Roussel.
The biggest name involved in the deal was Ekman-Larsson, a former NHL All-Star defenceman who had completed just the second year of a massive eight-year contract paying him $66 million.
Many hockey pundits had warned that Ekman-Larsson, who had just turned 30 years old at the time of the trade, was past his prime. But Benning was defiant.
“He’ll be a top pairing guy, can play a lot of minutes, PP, PK, can be a matchup guy playing against the other team’s top lines. He’s going to be a good mentor for our young players,” Benning told reporters the day the trade was made. “What he’s going to bring to our whole team is going to be immense.”
“He’s a real good skater. He’s a smart player. He’s still 30 years old, so I think he’s going to have another five, six good years left in him… We’re excited. We think he’s going to be our number one defenceman.”
While Ekman-Larsson has been far from Vancouver’s worst blueliner, he hasn’t performed close to the level Benning envisioned.
Unloading that contract, even while retaining $990,000 in annual salary, was a big win for Arizona. But of course, that’s just one aspect of this landslide victory.
Draft pick starring for Canada at World Juniors
We don’t know who the Canucks would have chosen at ninth overall had they decided to keep their 2021 first-round draft pick.
But we do know who the Coyotes selected, and Arizona has to be pleased with their choice.
The Coyotes picked Dylan Guenther, a 6-foot-2 winger from Edmonton, with the No. 9 pick. He went on to score 91 points in 59 WHL games last season and has already played 21 NHL games as a 19-year-old, scoring 11 points.
His first and it is a beauty. 😍 pic.twitter.com/NvlHZZEIb9
— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) October 22, 2022
Arizona loaned Guenther to Team Canada for the World Juniors, where he picked up a hat trick on Wednesday. He now has four points through the first two games of the tournament.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 29, 2022
If Guenther was in Vancouver’s system, he’d be their most promising prospect by a wide margin.
The 2022 second-round pick involved in the deal was flipped to Minnesota for centre Jack McBain in March. The Wild selected 5-foot-10 centre Hunter Haight, who has 22 points in 27 OHL games as an 18-year-old this season, with the pick.
Eriksson, Beagle, Roussel already off the books
The players involved in the trade were all salary dumps, but the Coyotes are already done paying them.
Arizona had $12 million in cap space freed up in the offseason, as Eriksson ($6 million), Beagle ($3 million), and Roussel ($3 million) became free agents. None of them are playing in the NHL today.
Eriksson has three goals and zero assists in 12 games with Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League. Roussel was released from a PTO with the Philadelphia Flyers in September and has not played a game this season. He appears to be starting a new career in media in Quebec.
Beagle also hasn’t played a game this season. His playing career is likely over at age 37.
Trade costing the Canucks dearly
Garland has had a disappointing second season in Vancouver, scoring just 16 points (5-11-16) in 33 games. The 26-year-old was a lot better last season when he notched 52 points (19-33-52) in 77 games.
He’s the lone bright spot if there is one at all.
The Canucks would have loved to have $12 million in cap space last summer. They desperately need prospects and draft picks, so a player like Guenther — or any of the players drafted immediately after him — would have been a godsend.
Ekman-Larsson still qualifies as one of Vancouver’s top defencemen and their blue line is paper thin as it is. But when you consider his contract, the 31-year-old isn’t providing the Canucks value.
Even if you removed the No. 9 draft pick from the deal, the Canucks still lose this trade.
They can’t trade Ekman-Larsson now, and he’s on the books for four more years after this season. Garland is a player they can trade, even at a $4.95 million cap hit, but they’re not getting a first-round pick for him in return.
The trade worked in Vancouver’s favour for one season, but it’s looking like one Canucks fans will stew about for many years. Because after just 17 months, the Canucks have already lost this shortsighted and ill-advised trade.