Ekman-Larsson is a hard player to judge because his career has been all over the place, and not just the trip from Arizona to Florida by way of Vancouver.

There are reasons for the two most recent down years, and for a 32-year-old defender, they make this signing fairly high risk. In 2019, he had surgery on his knee, nothing odd and just the usual thing a lot of NHL players have, but he suffered pain throughout the following year. He thought he was doing well heading into the delayed 2020-2021 season, but it just didn't happen for him.

The more extreme problem came in 2022 when he broke his foot at the World Championships in May. He missed most of his training over the summer and was candid after a terrible year in Vancouver that he was slow and not effective. He admitted he had some knee problems as well.

Last season in Florida, he was used very effectively behind a strong top four. The Panthers are one of the few teams to have a genuine top four who play equal minutes. Carolina is the other example, but most teams have a clear divide between their top two or three and everyone else. Ekman-Larsson's minutes declined in the mid-part of the season for Florida, giving him a long stretch where he played just third-pairing minutes that set him up for his effective playoffs.

Toronto can't do this as easily. Toronto is going to have a bottom four behind a strong top pair. That bottom four is going to have to be defence by committee because the cap space just isn't there for $5 and $6 million players to fill it out. This doesn't help Ekman-Larsson, but it's a problem with any signing, not just this one and blame shouldn't fall on him for it.

When I first looked at the Leafs' defence needs I said they need to first focus on defence, which is the role Chris Tanev fills very well. But I also said someone better than Jake McCabe as the number two power-play defender was necessary, and Ekman-Larsson is that.

Nothing about this signing is ideal, but that ideal of a defensively decent, offensively valuable and power-play defender all for $4 million or less is harder to find than a bona fide top-pairing player. All you need for that is cap space. Fitting someone in to a very constrained space is a lot harder. Compromises are inevitable.

Aside from the Leafs possibly overplaying Ekman-Larsson, the biggest risk is really from ageing decline. Tanev has already proven he's not declining. Ekman-Larsson has not. But that said, you can't claim this year's defence corps isn't a lot better than last year's.