By Mike Cratty | Follow me on Twitter @Mike_Cratty
Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm’s name has popped up in trade buzz as of late. This has caught the attention of many, and rightfully so. Ekholm is a sturdy defenseman. Pierre LeBrun recently mentioned his name on TSN Insider Trading, saying the following:
“There’s a more intriguing name when I talk to teams around the league that they hope will be on the market—and I think there is an absolute solid chance that the Predators at least listen—top-four defenseman Mattias Ekholm, who has been a long-standing member of that organization.”
Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston said on SN650 that he has heard that Ekholm’s name is out there in trade discussions and that GM David Poile could look to move him.
Pierre LeBrun on TSN Insider Trading, and furthermore Predators staff writer Adam Vingan of The Athletic brought up the Jake Muzzin to Toronto and Alec Martinez to Vegas trades as potential templates for an Ekholm trade.
Vingan has spoken highly of Ekholm in the past. The Ekholm discussion begins at the 2:39 mark, but his discussion about Viktor Arvidsson beforehand is worth the listen as well, if you will:
I personally think GM David Poile would look for a return more like the Muzzin deal. Trading Ekholm without getting a first-round pick back would be puzzling. He’s a well-rounded defenseman with this season and next left on his current contract at an AAV of $3.75 million, which is a pretty reasonable price tag for a player like him.
If the Muzzin template were to be followed, the Bruins would send their 2021 first-round pick, a young forward, and another prospect. The Kings acquired Carl Grundstrom, who was scratching the surface of NHL ice time at the time, and the signing rights to defenseman Sean Durzi from the Maple Leafs.
I imagine Poile would inquire about players like Jake DeBrusk, Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Lauzon, and John Beecher from the Bruins, to name a few. Who he would get obviously remains to be seen.
The Martinez template for a trade would require second-round picks in 2021 and 2022 going to Nashville. While more favorable for the Bruins, I think the Muzzin template would be much more appealing from Poile’s point of view.
One thing to monitor in the near future is a lower-body injury he recently suffered that is keeping him out week-to-week at this point in time. Also, there is always the potential that Poile doesn’t like what he sees on the trade market from other GM’s and decides to hold on to Ekholm.
For Don Sweeney and Bruins management, it comes down to staying the course with the youth on the back end, or potentially moving another first-round pick and more for an established top-four defenseman. Sweeney has moved the Bruins’ 2018 and 2020 first-round picks in trades.
Overall, I like what I’ve seen from the youth on the back end. The implementation of new faces on the back end hasn’t been perfect, but they have given us reason for optimism.
With Matt Grzelcyk having horrendous luck with injuries this season, and Jakub Zboril recently being injured, I think Sweeney checking on Ekholm’s availability and potentially making a move would be the right thing to do. Even if the situation regarding health on the back end was better, Ekholm is a very intriguing potential addition with team control past this season.
It’s also worth noting that Ekholm has no trade protection on his current contract, so that makes things a bit easier. At such a reasonable price at $3.75M AAV, Sweeney could certainly make a trade work for the Bruins under the hard salary cap. Ekholm would more likely than not be a tremendous fit next to Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo.
When some people think of Ekholm, they may think of his defensive prowess first, which is fine, but he can also produce offensively at a solid pace. Put him next to McAvoy and he could be even better in that regard, as could McAvoy. In four of his last five seasons, Ekholm has tallied 33+ points, while putting up 23 in the one outlier season of the bunch (2016-2017).
He’s a towering presence on the ice as well, listed at 6-foot-4, 215 lbs. That’s never a bad thing when you possess the array of his skills he brings to the ice. Three assists in 12 games so far this season from him shouldn’t really scare anyone.
If a trade is made, one important thing to note is it will be made with the organizations intentions for the upcoming Seattle expansion draft in mind. Specifically what their plans come down to in regards to the landscape of the team following a trade and protection status of certain players.
Additionally, Sweeney will make sure he can make it work in the future with players like Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak, and David Krejci on expiring deals, as well as McAvoy and Carlo needing new deals in the near future. Of course, other financial matters will come into play, but those are the big ones.
Once McAvoy needs his next deal as a restricted free agent, Ekholm will be an unrestricted free agent. Sweeney has a lot to factor into the equation when it comes to making a trade for a player like Ekholm. If he wants to make a splash and really bulk up a team that is already playing well, this might be the way to do it for Sweeney and the Bruins.