With captain Ekman-Larsson staying, Coyotes ready to ‘get back to work’

Oliver Ekman-Larsson (left) is staying with the Arizona Coyotes but Taylor Hall is not after signing a one-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – The Arizona Coyotes bolstered their forward depth by signing three players at the start of the NHL free agent period, but it was a player the Coyotes kept and one they lost more than anybody they added that made news.

The club announced that defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson will stay in the desert for the upcoming season.

The Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins were reportedly suitors for Ekman-Larsson, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, but the Coyotes did not find a deal to their liking.

Kevin Epp, the agent for Ekman-Larsson, 29, had set a 9 a.m. deadline last Friday for any trade proposals, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger. Ekman-Larsson’s contract includes a no-movement clause, which gave Epp the ability to put a deadline on a deal for the two-time All-Star.

“That deadline was set by the agent and the player, but at the same time, it’s something we can move on from and get back to work,” said Coyotes General Manager Bill Armstrong.

Ekman-Larsson is entering the second year of an eight-year, $8.25-million contract extension after recording nine goals and 30 points in 66 games last season.

A former first-round pick of the Coyotes, Ekkman-Larson was selected sixth overall in the 2009 NHL Draft and has played all 10 of his NHL seasons in Arizona. He has scored 125 goals and collected 364 points during his career, and his 723 games in a Coyotes sweater rank fourth all-time in games played for the franchise, which dates to its days as the original Winnipeg Jets.

While Ekman-Larrson’s will remain in the Coyotes’ room, forward Taylor Hall will not. After reportedly talking with multiple teams over the last couple days, Hall agreed to a one-year, $8 million deal with the Buffalo Sabres.

“He just, at this point in time, wouldn’t be a good fit for the Coyotes and the direction that we’re moving, and I think his agent was always aware of that,” Armstrong told reporters following the end of the 2020 NHL Draft on Wednesday.

In his end-of-the-season press conference with reporters, the 28-year-old star winger had nothing but positive things to say about his brief stay with the Coyotes, who included their first-round draft pick in the deal with New Jersey for the former Hart Trophy winner.

“I got to play in the playoffs,” Hall said. “That wouldn’t have been possible if I was in New Jersey still. I’m grateful for that opportunity. Getting a chance to spend time in Arizona and to join a new team was really fun.”

This was Hall’s first entry into the market as an unrestricted free agent after he completed the final season in a seven-year, $6-million deal he originally signed with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012.

Arizona acquired Hall in December and he tallied 27 points in 35 games with the Coyotes during a pandemic-shortened regular season. When the NHL returned to play to start the playoffs, Hall registered two goals and scored six points in nine postseason games for Arizona.

With Hall departing, the Coyotes bolstered their forward depth by signing forwards Johan Larsson, Tyler Pitlick and John Hayden.

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Larsson signed a two-year, two-way contract at $1.4 million per year with Arizona, finding a change of scenery after spending seven seasons with Buffalo.

“I think the potential for the team is very high,” Larsson said. “They had a decent year last year, and they want to be better. I had a good talk as to how they see me as a player, the kind of player I am, and where I’m going to fit in and things like that.”

The 28-year-old center posted a career-best 18 points last season. Larsson was a teammate of Ekman-Larsson and fellow Arizona defenseman Niklas Hjalmarrson with Team Sweden.

The Coyotes signed Pitlick to a two-year, $1.75-million deal. The former Philadelphia Flyer played in 63 games, collecting eight goals with 20 total points. Entering his seventh NHL season, Pitlick will be playing for his fourth team.

“I think I am more comfortable hanging on to the puck now,” Pitilick said. “I am, overall, more rounded – defensive zone, penalty kill, confidence, and knowing that I have a role on a team is when I am at my best.”

Hayden and the Coyotes agreed to a one-year deal worth $750,000. The 25-year-old center posted four points and 77 penalty minutes in 43 games with New Jersey last season.

“I didn’t know what to expect going into the free agency process after discussions with New Jersey, but I’m thrilled to be a part of the Arizona Coyotes organization,” Hayden said. “I want to bring a competitive edge to Arizona and bring a two-way game with physicality.”

The Coyotes also added defenseman Jordan Gross and forward Dryden Hunt to one-year, two-way contracts. Gross, 25, made his NHL debut with the Detroit Red Wings last season and tallied one assist in two games with the Coyotes. Hunt, 24, collected four assists and accumulated 24 penalty minutes in 21 games with the Florida Panthers in 2019-20.

It was a busy weekend for players with recent ties to the Coyotes. Center Vinnie Hinostroza, who was with the Coyotes this past season, signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Florida Panthers. The 26-year-old forward played in 140 games in two seasons in Arizona, collecting 21 goals and 61 points during his tenure.

Former Coyotes center Max Domi signed a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Domi spent three seasons with the Coyotes from 2015-2018 before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens.

Former Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, who spent six seasons with Arizona ending in 2017, returned to Edmonton on a one-year, $2 million deal after recording a 2.95 goals against average and a .902 save percentage for the Oilers last season.

Michael Gutnick My-kull Gut-nick
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Michael Gutnick is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in sports broadcast journalism and a minor in mathematics. He is a digital reporter for Cronkite Sports this spring.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jake Santo expects to graduate in spring 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in political science. Santo most recently worked as a video intern for the Arizona Diamondbacks and game-day staff with Phoenix Rising FC.