GLENDALE -- The Coyotes secured the services of two major contributors to their team on Sunday by re-signing defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson to lengthy contract extensions.
Ekman-Larsson, 26, who has one year left on his current contract, signed an eight-year extension.
"I'm very happy," said Ekman-Larsson, a two-time NHL All-Star who has played 576 NHL games, all for the Coyotes, who drafted him sixth overall in 2009. "I love living in Arizona and playing for the Coyotes so it was a no-brainer for me. I didn't really think about leaving or going anywhere else. I've been focused on staying in Arizona. That's where I want to play. I think we have something good coming."
Ekman-Larsson ranks second on the franchise list for goals by a defenseman with 102, just six behind leader Teppo Numminen. Given the length of his new deal, he'll likely smash that team record and many others.
"It's a huge moment for our entire organization," General Manager John Chayka said. "Our fans should be proud, our ownership should be proud, our staff and everyone involved. A superstar-caliber player has the option to go to maybe any of the 31 teams and felt the loyalty and felt the belief enough in what we're doing to sign on long-term. He's a leader on and off the ice and a special person, a special player. To get someone like that locked up long-term and hopefully make him a Coyote for life, that's what we were after and we pursued it aggressively. We're just happy he feels the same way. Those are the type of people you build your organization around and we're excited to have him."
Head Coach Rick Tocchet agreed.
"I think OEL sees what we're trying to do here and I think that's what enticed him to re-sign," Tocchet said. "He likes the players we have and he likes how the team progressed. We're fortunate. He's an elite player in this league and we have him."
Ekman-Larsson is eager for the Coyotes to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He's the lone remaining player from the team that last made it in 2011-12.
"'I'm super excited about the way we finished the second half last year," Ekman-Larsson said. "I think it took a while to get used to 'Toc' and the system. Once everybody got going and felt comfortable in that system, I think we were one of the better teams in the league. It was easy for me to make that decision to stay. I believe in this team and in the (new) players that we got. I think we're going to surprise some people."
Hjalmarsson, 31, signed on for two more years starting in 2019-20.
"I felt pretty quickly that I really liked everybody around the organization, the staff and the management, and obviously the players on the team, too," Hjalmarsson said. "Even though we had a really rough start , and overall not a great season last year, I still see potential in the group and in the organization. I really want to be a part of getting the Coyotes back to the playoffs. That's my main goal with re-signing. I see that as a mission that I want to be a part of."
Hjalmarsson played only 48 games last season, his first in Arizona, because of multiple injuries.
"I think I have a lot to prove," Hjalmarsson said. "I wasn't happy with the way I played last year, being injured for most of the year. I'm very motivated to have a really good season next year … My body feels better than in a long time right now, so I definitely won't have any excuses to not have a season that I've had before I was injured or when I was with the Blackhawks. That's what I expect of myself for the next three years, to just come back to being a guy that 'Toc' and the coaches can trust upon every game, every shift."
Like Ekman-Larsson, Hjalmarsson served as one of the team's alternate captains last season.
"It's huge for us to have a professional guy like (Hjalmarsson) in our dressing room," Tocchet said. "He's a guy that's not afraid to tell you 'Hey, I had a bad game.' There is ownership in his game that is outstanding. I like that about him and I'm glad that he's on our team."
Chayka said keeping Hjalmarsson beyond next season is a huge plus.
"I think being able to get Nik Hjalmarsson, a guy that's won three Stanley Cups and played in an organization like Chicago and says he wants to be here, that gives you some validation of what you're trying to do," Chayka said. "Now we're coming off of having some mutual interest with some of the top free agents in that process and obviously we're coming off a draft where we feel like our pipeline of premium positions is as good as it's ever been. It's a process and we're continuing to work through it. We've got a bright future ahead, but we've got to stay disciplined. We have to stick to that plan, and I feel like today we've done that."