The biggest story for the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday had nothing to do with what happened in their 5-4 loss. It had everything to do with Oliver Ekman-Larsson not playing along with the rest of his teammates on the ice at Amalie Arena against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Bruce Boudreau has had healthy, scratched big-name players before. He put Conor Garland against Columbus on October 18. Andrei Kuzmenko watched from the press box against the Bruins on November 13. Brock Boeser would take a scratch on December 3 against the Coyotes before a last-minute injury to Dakota Joshua brought the former back into the lineup. Ethan Bear was scratched against the Kraken on December 22nd.
However, this one is different. Garland, Kuzmenko and Boeser are important players, but none of them wear an “A” on their shirt like Ekman-Larsson. OEL is the highest-paid Canucks player by total salary for the season and earned his stripes as a league veteran. Most head coaches in the NHL are very wary of scraping veterans in this position, even when their game warrants it.
Just check out Brian Dumoulin on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Dumoulin is a shadow of the defender he once was and was terrible to the penguins. No matter how fervently Pittsburgh fans clamored for Dumoulin to be scratched, Mike Sullivan has not used that card, even with his club in the middle of a dogfight playoff race in the east.
The two situations are obviously not exactly the same. Dumoulin played under Sullivan for years, winning down the blue line as a stalwart cup winner, while Ekman-Larsson and the Canucks weren’t nearly as long-lasting or successful as a partnership. But it’s still not an easy decision to seed a player of Ekman-Larsson’s pedigree, age and salary bracket, even if it was 100 per cent justified given his recent form.
It shows Boudreau isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers, perhaps in a last-ditch effort to wake up this Canucks group and demand accountability. OEL’s scratches and all the headlines about it are also waving a flag in the NHL as if to solidify the blockbuster trade for him and Garland – the club gave up three draft picks including the one that got Dylan Guenther selected while he was also the last few years have thrown off the contracts of Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel – an absolute disaster, in case the rest of the league didn’t know.
Ekman-Larsson’s contract, which includes a four-year cap of $7.26 million after this season and a vesting clause, is non-negotiable. A buyout doesn’t make sense just yet — if the Canucks pull the trigger this summer, they’ll be saddled with a dead-cap hit through 2031. Why create cap disadvantages that stretch into the next decade just to have more flexibility for the next season when you won’t be fighting for a Stanley Cup in 2023-24 anyway?
The best the Canucks can do is figure out how and why this disastrous mess happened in the first place. Don’t let the same philosophy doom the future.
Vancouver made this trade because it lacked patience and wanted a shortcut. The Canucks necessary to squeak into the playoffs now, So instead of just waiting a year for Eriksson, Beagles and Roussel’s joint $12 million cap hit to get off the books, they looked for an immediate fix. They were not comfortable with short-term pain and were willing to sacrifice their long-term basis for it. That’s why they’re in this mess.
The Canucks must keep the failed corner-cutting philosophy that led to his disastrous trade in mind as they plan their future. Don’t start this offseason with an approach aimed at making the playoffs next season. For years, the Canucks have acted like an amateur investor who just downloaded Robinhood and naively thinks he can get rich immediately, while his peers have spent years responsibly investing in the future with an actual long-term strategy.
This organization needs to burn the disappointment of seeing one of their highest paid players as a healthy scratch on their minds to remind them never to try the get-rich-quick scheme again.
Maximizing the OEL value
The Canucks will be staying with Ekman-Larsson for a while, so they might as well figure out how to put him in the best position to succeed. One of OEL’s biggest weaknesses right now is how slow it is at retrieving dump-ins. He can’t spin and win loose puck races fast enough to help get out of the defensive zone.
How far ahead would Ekman-Larsson need to beat Kapanen in a foot race? pic.twitter.com/AJaELIFmOT
— Cam Charron (@camcharronyvr) October 29, 2022
Ekman-Larsson’s greatest weakness also happens to be Ethan Bear’s greatest asset. Cam Charron’s tracking data proved it. Play them together instead of expecting OEL to match Myers, who isn’t Agile either. OEL and Bear have put together 215 five-a-side minutes where they actually have a plus-two differential on shots on target. They basically played to a stalemate in terms of possession and chances. Without Bear, Ekman-Larsson’s results are much worse.
OEL plays better with Bear
Shot Attempts (CF%)
Expected Goals (xGF%)
OEL without a bear
Come to think of it, maybe keep them apart because of the team tank.
The Rick Tocchet Rumors
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Thursday that the Canucks have resumed talks with Rick Tocchet: “I can put it best now, I think it’s in the hands of the Canucks. Do they want to do it or not? I don’t think it’s imminent. I think if they change anything, it’ll probably be a few more weeks.”
This isn’t the first and probably won’t be the last time a candidate has been kicked out as a potential successor to Boudreau, whose contract expires at the end of this season.
Tocchet, a national studio analyst for TNT, was Pittsburgh’s assistant coach during the first half of the club’s consecutive championships under Jim Rutherford. He’s known for bringing out the best in enigmatic personalities — in Pittsburgh, Sullivan delegated the responsibility of bringing out the best in Phil Kessel to Tocchet after realizing how great their relationship was. That could be attractive to the Canucks as they need to get more out of JT Miller.
After the Penguins’ first cup win, Tocchet took over as the Coyotes’ head coach. He’s a tough, manly leader who can crack jokes but also plays the disciplining role, which could be valuable for management given how much she has criticized the club’s preparation and habits under Boudreau. Tocchet inherited a Coyotes roster with a lack of high-end talent and asked them to buy into an airtight defensive structure. They became a team trying to go 2-1, and under Tocchet they made the playoffs in one of four years.
Do the Canucks have the intelligent, reciprocal staffing necessary to excel in a tightly controlled defensive environment? Would a manager like Tocchet have to change his style to adapt to the squad?
It’s also worth noting and widely shared that Tocchet and Ekman-Larsson weren’t always a good match in Arizona.
Patrik Allvin has every right to pick his first bank boss – a change from Boudreau, whether mid-season or summer, is perfectly justifiable.
Ultimately, whether it’s Tocchet or someone else, a coaching change shouldn’t be seen as a silver bullet to fix this team. Boudreau is a career .629 coach with a sample of more than a thousand games. His playoff record is flawed, but he’s one of the best you’ll find in terms of regular-season success. If Boudreau can’t successfully lead this Canucks team, that says more about the roster than it does him.
When the Canucks finally choose their next coach, hopefully they’ll make that decision with young player development and a long-term vision at the forefront of their priorities.
(Photo of Ethan Bear controlling the puck against Lightning’s Anthony Cirelli in Thursday’s first half: Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA Today)
https://theathletic.com/4087064/2023/01/13/canucks-oliver-ekman-larsson-scratch-rick-tocchet-rumours/ Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s scratch, Rick Tocchet rumors of Canucks and more