July 17th, 2024

Ekman-Larsson can win the Stanley Cup with Florida a year after being bought out by Vancouver

By Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press on June 14, 2024.

Florida Panthers defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (91) attempts a shot at New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) in the first period of Game 3 during the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) – Oliver Ekman-Larsson has the chance to win the Stanley Cup with the Florida Panthers nearly a year to the day since being bought out by the Vancouver Canucks.

The 32-year-old defenseman from Sweden has been in the NHL for more than a decade and only twice before made the playoffs during a career spent mostly with the Coyotes. His time in Arizona included a run to the Western Conference final in 2012 before being traded to the Canucks in 2021 for a couple of seasons that did not go as planned.

Vancouver bought out the final four seasons of his $66 million, eight-year contract on June 16, making him a free agent. Ekman-Larsson signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Panthers roughly two weeks later and has become a perfect fit on their blue line as they try to get over the hump for the first title in franchise history.

“I’m just super, super happy to be in this situation, obviously having a couple of rough years in Vancouver and getting bought out,” Ekman-Larsson said Friday. “Just to be in this position with this organization and this team, so many special guys in that room, I’m just trying to take one day at a time, soak it in and have fun with it.”

While captain Aleksander Barkov, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and younger Swedish defenseman Gustav Forsling are among those being considered for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, Ekman-Larsson has played a much smaller but still important depth role. He has averaged 15 minutes a game during this run, playing alongside Dmitry Kulikov, who has also never hoisted the Cup.

“It’s been great,” Kulikov said. “We both are veteran guys who played a lot of games but haven’t really been in a position to win it. So, we cherish every moment of it, and I’m sure he feels the same way.”

End for Gagner?

Sam Gagner was the sixth pick in the draft by the Oilers in 2007 and is back for a third tour with them in what could be his last hoorah in the league. At 34, he split the season between Edmonton and the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors and has not played since April.

Still, the veteran forward who has bounced around to Arizona, Philadelphia, Columbus, Vancouver and Detroit before returning to Edmonton holds a special place in the hearts of Oilers players.

“He’s a great leader for us, even when he doesn’t play; he’s a great guy to have around the room,” top-line winger Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “He wants to be here. He wants to be helping out any way he can, so great role model for a lot of the younger guys coming up. Just a great teammate to have around.”

There was plenty of talk before the series about getting Gagner into a game if it looked like the Oilers were close to the Stanley Cup because playing in the final would have gotten his name engraved on the trophy. Trailing 3-0 – a deficit only four teams in NHL history have overcome and just once in the final – it would be a surprise to see Gagner in the lineup for Game 4, but he’s skating in case the long shot chance does materialize.

“Whatever the lineup is, it’s out of my control,” Gagner said. “I’ll still prepare like I always do.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL

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