Maple Leafs swung and missed on high-profile target before signing Ekman-Larsson

Dean Chaudhry
July 3, 2024  (8:39)

Former Los Angeles Kings' defenseman Matt Roy playing the puck behind the net
Photo credit: Gary A. Vasquez - USA Today Sports

According to a report, Oliver Ekman-Larsson wasn't the first choice for the Toronto Maple Leafs after signing Chris Tanev.

On the first day of the NHL's free agent frenzy, the Maple Leafs came out of it with a slew of defensemen in Chris Tanev, Jani Hakanpaa, and Ekman-Larsson, but according to James Mirtle of The Athletic, the Leafs had bigger aspirations for their backend before being forced to pivot in another direction.
Matt Roy was one of the more underrated defensemen on the open market, primarily because he played on the West Coast for the Los Angeles Kings, but also because he's not as flashy as some of the other names. Nevertheless, he was one of the hottest commodities on Monday and eventually inked a 7-year deal worth $5.75 million dollars per season with the Washington Capitals.
According to Mirtle, the Maple Leafs were extremely close to landing him before missing the boat and shifting their focus to Ekman-Larsson.
"If it doesn't look bad in Year 1, it'll certainly look bad in Year 2 or Year 3... Ekman-Larsson is not gonna be easy to disappear and I would be concerned that they're going to play him higher in the lineup than the third pair and we know what that looks like because it didn't work in Vancouver. That's the really problematic deal for me and I think it happened because they got close on some other names and backed away over where the price was going and I wondered if they could have spent that money somewhere else."
If it is true that the Maple Leafs were put off by Roy's asking price and opted to save $2.25 million dollars per season by pivoting towards Ekman-Larsson, that's certainly a questionable choice by Leafs GM Brad Treliving, who could have mitigated any cap concerns by simply moving on from David Kampf, who makes $2.4M to play on the 4th line.
Ekman-Larsson was the cheaper option for a reason. He is 4 years older than Roy and has had a tough time adjusting to a top-4 role since his departure from the Arizona Coyotes. He was sheltered in Florida and played just 15 minutes a night en route to the Stanley Cup, and expectations in Toronto will be a lot higher than they were in South Florida.
Only time will tell how well the Ekman-Larsson contract matures over time, but the Leafs will need to find him the right partner and use him primarily for his power play quarterbacking for him not to become a full-on defensive liability like John Klingberg.
As for Roy, a 7-year deal on the open market for close to $6 million dollars is assuredly a gamble, but based on his responsible defensive play, the Capitals might have gotten good value there.
Source for the James Mirtle interview: JD Bunkis Podcast
What the Leafs Could've Done Differently w/ James Mirtle
Maple Leafs swung and missed on high-profile target before signing Ekman-Larsson

Should the Maple Leafs have met Matt Roy's asking price?

Yes, he would have been the perfect top-4 addition16730.9 %
No, 7 years is way too much term37369.1 %
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