VANCOUVER – Finally unshackled from the Loui Eriksson disaster and two other onerous contracts, the Vancouver Canucks need to be better at managing their salary cap. But they also need to be better at managing expectations.
When Eriksson was signed to that six-year, $36-million anvil in 2016, he was sold to Canucks fans as a first-line winger. Brandon Sutter was going to be Vancouver’s second-line centre. In successive years, fans voted Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher the team’s top defenceman, leaving the rookies nowhere to go but down.
So when Jim Benning made his big, bold bet on Friday, dumping three bad contracts and trading his first-round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for winger Conor Garland and most of the $49.5 million remaining on Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s contract, it was a little disconcerting to hear the general manager call Ekman-Larsson the Canucks’ No. 1 defenceman.
Ekman-Larsson may well lead the team in ice time next season. But if people think the Swede is going to roll back time four or five seasons and lead the Canucks’ defence for the next six years, they’re going to be angry and disappointed again.
Fortunately, Ekman-Larsson doesn’t have to be a dominant No. 1 defenceman for this trade to work for the Canucks. In fact, if he is that, it means 21-year-old phenom Quinn Hughes has failed to grow into that role ahead of Ekman-Larsson on the left side of Vancouver’s defence.
The career Coyote…