The Coyotes locked up Ekman-Larsson for the long term Friday, signing the 21-year-old to a six-year contract. The team didn't disclose terms, but CapGeek.com reports the deal is worth $33.5 million, an average annual value of $5.5 million.
"In this day and age, you have to pay for quality," Maloney said during a conference call shortly after the signing was announced. "You either pay now or pay later.
"He has the chance to be one of the best players in the League for a long time. That's why we stepped up and made the deal."
The Coyotes took Ekman-Larsson with the sixth pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, but Maloney said the Swede really blossomed late last season and during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he helped the Coyotes reach the Western Conference Finals.
"His play in the second half of the season and the playoffs made us realize that we had something special," Maloney said.
The native of Karlskrona, Sweden set career highs in goals (13), assists (19), points (32) and games played (82) in 2011-12. He was one of six Coyotes to play in all 82 games and ranked second in time on ice per game (22:06). He also ranked second in blocked shots (92) and third in hits (140).
This season, Ekman-Larsson is second on the team in points (17) and tops in assists (14) and plus-minus (plus-8). He's tied for sixth among NHL defensemen in points and leads the Coyotes in time on ice per game (25:07). Ekman-Larsson is one of two NHL defensemen to score a shootout goal this season.
In two-plus NHL seasons, Ekman-Larsson has played 157 games, scoring 17 goals and adding 43 assists for 60 points, as well as 70 penalty minutes. He has one goal, four points and eight penalty minutes in 16 playoff games.
Ekman-Larsson, who's on the final season of his entry-level contract and could have become a restricted free agent next summer, is glad to be staying put.
"I'm excited -- it's a big day for me and my parents," he said during the conference call. "I really like the team we have here in Phoenix, and I'm excited to be here for another six years. It feels good to have it done."
He said he feels there's plenty of room for his game to grow.
"I think I can still improve and get better," he said. "I just have to work hard in practices and games. I think I can get better in every zone."
Maloney said the sides began talking during the offseason and that negotiations picked up after the work stoppage was settled in January.
"Once we were back in business, we had some more conversations and found a deal that made sense to us," Maloney said. "When a 21-year-old is nearly your top scorer, your best plus-minus player, one of your top ice-time players and being mentioned as a Norris Trophy candidate -- we felt the sooner we got him signed to a long-term deal, the better.
"It was a situation where we thought a future contract would be more expensive. All in all, we felt it was a fair deal. The contract is structured so it will pay a little less in the first couple of years, which gives us a little more flexibility early on. It certainly pays him as one of the top defensemen in the League."
Maloney stressed that though this is a second contract for Ekman-Larsson, the Coyotes are paying for performance rather than promise. The GM also wanted to make sure the defenseman wouldn't be able to accept an offer sheet during the offseason.
"I have no problem paying for production," Maloney said. "I'd rather not pay for potential. I think in Oliver's case, we surveyed the offer sheet [from the Calgary Flames] that came out for [Colorado Avalanche center] Ryan O'Reilly -- it really put us into overdrive in the sense that we felt we were potentially vulnerable to an offer sheet in the offseason, given our situation.
"We thought that if we could get a deal that made sense to us, that looking at where he is now and where we anticipate he'll be in the next few years, that we needed to do it."
The Coyotes are still owned by the NHL, and Maloney said he's grateful to be given the resources to make the kind of commitment the team made to Ekman-Larsson.
"I want to thank [Deputy Commissioner] Bill Daly for showing enough faith and trust in us," Maloney said. "We think we're making a good decision. It's a fair contract now, and we think it will be a very good contract in two or three years. There's no doubt in my mind this will turn out to be a very, very good deal for us."
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