“We’ve been very clear that we’re willing to do whatever we possibly can to have him come back, and (we) think he’s a heck of a defenseman, heck of a player, heck of a person,” Chayka told NHL.com at the 2018 NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo.
Ekman-Larsson, who will turn 27 in July, has one year remaining on a six-year, $33 million contract and can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Chyaka’s comments come a couple weeks after reports surfaced saying the Coyotes were trying to sign Ekman-Larsson to an eight-year contract, the maximum allowed. He’s eligible to re-sign with the team on July 1.
Last season Ekman-Larsson had 14 goals and 42 points in 82 games. For his career he has 102 goals and 576 assists.
Originally taken sixth overall in the 2009 draft, Ekman-Larsson has been a star player on the Coyotes blue line his whole career. He is also the longest-serving active Coyote on the roster.
Ekman-Larsson’s regular season play hasn’t translated into success in the standings for his team though. Arizona last made the playoffs in the 2011-12 season when they lost in the Western Conference finals to the L.A. Kings.
Chayka said he understands why Ekman-Larsson might be getting impatient with the Coyotes’ lack of success and stressed his goal is to build a playoff contender around his star defenceman.
“He’s had some hard times and we feel we can really surround him with the best people and the best players so that he can show what he’s capable of,” Chyaka said. “(We) really believe in him and what he can bring to our team. (We want to) build around him and really put together a team he deserves.”
Ekman-Larsson for his part has said in the past that he wants to remain in Arizona.
“It’s just money. It’s not going to make you happier. It might make your life a little bit easier but it’s not going to make you happier,” he said in an interview with Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre in March. “I feel if you’re around good people, that’s what makes you happy. I feel like I have that here. This is where I want to be.”
Chyaka also made sure to say that the team isn’t fielding trade offers for Ekman-Larsson heading into this offseason.
“Right now we’re just focused on getting him signed,” he said. “(We) feel like we’ve had some good discussions. He’s a big part of what we’re doing. That’s my focus right now.”
If Ekman-Larsson does test free agency, he could be joined by some other high-end defencemen in the open market. Both Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson are also set to be unrestricted free agents in 2019.