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Why the Avs SHOULDN'T Trade for Oliver Ekman-Larsson

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Even if OEL is available, trading for him would be a terrible mistake for Colorado.

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

This is an unpopular opinion.  I know this is an unpopular opinion, and I know that some of you have already jumped to the comments section to start raising a fuss about it.  But if you've read this far, all I ask is that you approach this article with an open mind and hear me out.

Even if he's available, the Avs shouldn't trade for Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Yes, he's an outstanding defenseman who will likely win the Norris at some point, and yes, the Avs desperately need help on the blueline.  A 23-year-old with that level of talent would certainly do the trick.  It's also certain that an Oliver Ekman-Larsson / Erik Johnson pairing would be a sight to behold and provide a rock solid foundation for the team to build on for the next decade.  His talent is unquestionable, and he'd probably look absolutely spectacular in burgundy.

Unfortunately, to get OEL, it's probably going to cost at least 1 core roster player + 1 top prospect + 1 Avs first round pick.  Arizona will likely want to start the discussion with Duchene or MacKinnon + prospect + 2015 1st, so if the Avs want to use O'Reilly instead, they'll have to up the ante significantly.  We could be talking a package of O'Reilly + 2 top prospects + Avs 2015 1st + Avs 2016 1st for Ekman-Larsson.  Arizona's looking to kick start a rebuild, so OEL won't come cheap.  There will almost certainly be a bidding war going on, so even if the pieces change (and I'm sure a few different scenarios will be hashed out ad nauseum in these comments), it's still going to take 3-5 high end assets to beat out the other clubs and get OEL to Colorado.

But here's the problem.  If you imagine the Avs roster as a boat, we currently have 3 giant leaks in the back where good defensemen should be (Stuart, Guenin, Holden), plus one more threatening to break lose due to age (Hejda).  In the middle of the boat, we have two more holes instead of 3rd and 4th line centers, and in the front, three spots (Iginla, Tanguay, O'Reilly) are likely to bust open sometime in the next few years due to age or trades.

On defense, we have a few plugs that MIGHT hold (Redmond, Elliott, Siemens, Bigras), but chances are good that they'll either leak or fail if we try to use them right now.  Plugs for the Bottom 6 are cheap and plentiful, but leaky ones can still doom the vessel.  They must be picked with care.  Top 6 plugs are harder to come by.  Some can be found in free agency, but it's best if you have a few spare ones in your system for emergencies and salary cap purposes.  While the Avs have some prospects that MIGHT get to that point, none of them are reliable options just yet.

In this situation, Ekman-Larsson would fix quite a few holes on the defensive end, but no one player can fix them all.  Even if he averaged 25 minutes a night with EJ, our little boat would still be subjected to 35 soggy minutes per game.   Plus, in order to get him, we'd have to give up 1-2 of our plugs PLUS punch a hole open in the front of the ship PLUS give Arizona our best plugs for the next 1-2 years.  OEL makes the defense better, but the damage he does to our overall ability to stay afloat in the future just isn't quite worth it.

Now, to be perfectly clear, I'm not against trading away that many assets for a player like him.  I'm just against trading them right now.  We still have too many question marks on our blueline and too few high-end forwards in our system to mortgage our future like that.  In two years, at least one of Siemens or Bigras should be in or nearing our Top 4, and two additional 1st round picks will be in our fold.  Two more free agencies will fill in many of the other gaps, just as two more free agencies will get rid of some of our current headaches.  By that time, the team should be close to contending.  If OEL is a final piece for a Cup run followed by a decade of excellence, okay.  Pull that trigger.  It's worth it.  But we aren't to that point yet.

Timing is everything, and big deals like this can go south very quickly.  This trade wouldn't be quite Lindros magnitude, but it has much of the same backfire potential.  If we include someone like Bigras and our 2015 1st in the package, what's to say either of them don't turn into a top defenseman in their own right within the next 5 years?  Arizona would have them AND everything else as a bonus.  There's a reason the Avs won two Cups after moving Lindros - I don't want to be at the other end of a trade like that.  Playing with so many high-end assets until we're sure the player we're acquiring will push us straight to the Cup is just too risky.  Norris caliber or not, it's simply not a smart way to set up the team for long-term success.

So, now that I've made the case for passing up one of the best defensemen of our era, what should the Avs do instead?  Well, they still need to fix the blueline, and O'Reilly still probably needs to be traded.  Instead of going all-in on a ready right now player like OEL, I'd like to see us target someone that has potential but a few warts in his game.  The obvious candidate is Tyler Myers.  A near one-to-one hockey trade might not pay immediate dividends, but it will be far less expensive and still yield a solid Top 4 defenseman with buckets of upside.

The Avs don't NEED to assemble the best defensive corps in the league;  they just need one good enough to win the Stanley Cup.  It's still a tall order, but Johnson, Myers, and Barrie PLUS all our prospects PLUS all our 1sts gives us a very strong nucleus with a few contingency plans if something goes wrong.  It creates a more stable and diversified base for the future than an OEL trade ever could.

This is hockey.  One player can't win games by himself.  If that was possible, Minnesota would have lifted the Cup soon after signing 29 minutes-per-night Ryan Suter.  We have a strong core with MacKinnon, Duchene, Johnson, and Varlamov, but concentrating too much on one position while ignoring the others is a recipe for disaster.  Sinking too many assets into one player, especially if you're a somewhat asset poor team like Colorado, is also going to end badly.  We do need to improve our defense, but we need to do so in a holistic way that doesn't compromise our forwards or goaltending.

And here's the thing:  even if OEL is only "on the market" for a very short period, any player can be moved at any time for the right price.  Just because the Avs pass on him today doesn't mean he's going to magically disappear in the next two years.  He's also probably not going to get all that much better than he already is.  Yes, he's still young and has some room for improvement, and heck, he might have a Norris by this time in 2017, but I doubt his already sky-high asking price will alter all that much.  And if it does, well, there are always other good young defensemen emerging in the NHL.  If we're willing to sell our farm, we'll still have options.

I know we're all frustrated with the team right now, and I know we all want to see our defense improve.  We've been asked for patience since 2009, and it's gotten really old.  I understand why an OEL trade could look like a panacea to all our woes, but our end game needs to be winning the Stanley Cup.  Oliver Ekman-Larsson the player would help us accomplish that goal, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson the price tag?  He would likely push that date back even further if he didn't obliterate it outright.  As maddening as it is, looking for smaller trades and staying the course is still the better option.  Our day in the sun will come, but given the cost, it's probably best if Oliver Ekman-Larsson wasn't a part of it.