When Oliver Ekman-Larsson broke his left foot blocking a shot during a game last May in the World Championships, no one could have guessed it would cause as much damage as it did.
While Ekman-Larsson did not want to use the injury as an excuse, he has admitted it ruined his offseason training and perhaps led to a season so bad Vancouver spent over $19 million to buy out the final four years of his contract.
That buyout allowed Ekman-Larsson to take a moment in finding a fresh start somewhere else.
It could just come with the Florida Panthers.
“Looking at what they did last year and going so far in the playoffs to the Stanley Cup Final, I want to win and want to play a long time during the year and that led to the decusion,” said Ekman-Larsson, who signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Panthers back on July 1.
“Looking at their team, there are a lot of good players and a lot of depth. I heard a lot of good things about the teams and the guys on the team so I am super excited to be joining them.”
There is certainly opportunity with the Panthers for Ekman-Larsson as the Panthers will be missing both Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour at the start of the season.
And, there should be little doubt Ekman-Larsson has plenty to prove.
“We’re thrilled to have to have Oliver on board,” Florida GM Bill Zito said earlier this month. “We’re in a cap crunch, we’re in a tough spot and we need to get value players and players who are willing to come in here and utilize the opportunity in our team as a springboard for themselves.’’
In 2018, he signed a eight-year, $66 million contract with Arizona before being traded to the Canucks in 2021 for a package of players and draft picks including the No. 9 pick in the 2021 draft.
The move looked back in Vancouver from the start as he only spent two seasons with the Canucks before the pricey buyout — one that comes with a heavy cap hit for both the Canucks and Coyotes over the next eight years.
After a rough start to last season, Ekman-Larsson was shut down after what was called an ankle injury in February.
On Wednesday, he said it was another broken foot which cost him the end of the season.
“It has been a rough couple of years,’’ he said.
Ekman-Larsson says he is all healed up and has begun skating in preparation for the upcoming season.
With a full offseason to get ready and a player who has something to prove, the Panthers look at the signing of Ekman-Larsson as a small gamble.
Ekman-Larsson says he wants to make sure it pays off.
“The opportunity is here,” he said. “It will be a good fit for me in Florida and I think the guys will help me become a better player and find success with a team there. It looks like a good fit.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
- Now: Free agency period is open
- Mid-September: Training Camp, South Florida
- Sept. 25: Preseason starts; Doubleheader v. Nashville @ Sunrise
- Oct. 7: Preseason ends; v. Tampa Bay Lightning @ Sunrise
- Oct. 12: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season at Minnesota Wild
- Oct. 19: 2023-24 Home Opener vs. Toronto Maple Leafs