VANCOUVER — After years of trying to manage their increasing salary-cap pain, the Vancouver Canucks opted for major surgery on Friday and amputated their spending mistakes in a blockbuster trade with the Arizona Coyotes.
They added a first-pairing defenceman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and a top-six winger in Conor Garland without surrendering a significant player from their roster, instead bundling the final season of bad contracts general manager Jim Benning had given years earlier to Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle and dumping them on Arizona.
The cost of this salary-cap cleansing was the ninth pick in Friday’s National Hockey League entry draft, a second-rounder next season and the Canucks’ willingness to absorb most of the $49.5 million owed to Ekman-Larsson, a 30-year-old who will have to overcome aging and science if he’s to be worth anything close to his $8.5-million annual cap hit by the end of his contract.
The ninth pick was guaranteed to secure an excellent prospect — possibly power centre Mason MacTavish or puck wizard Kent Johnson — capable of helping his NHL team on an entry-level salary in just two or three years.
But Garland, a restricted free agent who had 39 points in 49 games last season, is a 25-year-old dynamo who is still getting better and should fill the void left by Tyler Toffoli when the former Canuck was allowed to leave in free agency last October without even an offer from Vancouver.…