Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s time in Vancouver has come to an end.
The Canucks said Friday they had bought out the defenceman’s contract, making him an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Ekman-Larsson had four years and US$29 million remaining on an eight-year, $66-million contract he signed with Arizona in 2018.
In a release, the Canucks said they’ll pay the Swedish defenceman $19.33 million over the next eight years.
“The business of hockey is very complex and tough decisions have to be made if you want to remain competitive,” said Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin. “Buying out Oliver gives us a lot more flexibility and cap space the next couple of years and significantly reduces his hit in the subsequent season.”
If the team had retained Ekman-Larsson, he would have been paid a total of $18.5 million over the next two years alone, Allvin added.
“It is our expectation that following this year, the cap will also raise considerably making this the right time to execute this buyout,” he said.
Back in March, head coach Rick Tocchet expressed a belief that Ekman-Larsson would return as a Canuck next season.
“This is a big summer for him,” Tocchet said at the time. “I know a lot of people count him out. I don’t know, I’ve got a feeling that he’s going to have a really good year. There’s a gleam in his eye.
“I can tell that he’s going to use this as motivation. Things haven’t gone his way a lot a bunch of years now and I think this is something that, he’s going to take this summer and (reach) another level. I really believe it.”
In a draft weekend trade in 2021, the Canucks acquired Ekman-Larsson and forward Conor Garland from the Coyotes for forwards Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel. Arizona also received the No. 9 pick that year (used to select Dylan Guenter), a second-round pick in 2022 and a seventh-round pick in 2023.
At the time, ex-Canucks general manager Jim Benning said he saw Ekman-Larsson as a top-pairing defenceman.
“I think overall, what he’s going to bring to our whole team is going to be immense as far as what he does in the dressing room to mentor our young players to what he does on the ice,” Benning said.
Ekman-Larsson had two goals and 20 assists in 54 games with the Canucks last season. He missed the final 27 games of the campaign with an ankle injury.
Over two seasons with the Canucks, Ekman-Larsson had 51 points (7-44) in 133 games.
A sixth overall pick in 2009, the 31-year-old blueliner spent 12 seasons with the Coyotes. Tocchet served as his coach for four seasons in Arizona.