Oilers Have Defensive Fix by Trading for Predators’ Ekholm

The Edmonton Oilers are in a dogfight for a playoff spot, similar to last season. They will be getting Evander Kane back in the lineup, but scoring hasn’t necessarily been their problem this season. The depth scoring hasn’t been great but is improving as some of the young players get more comfortable. What has hampered the Oilers is defensive inconsistencies.

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The problems in the defensive zone have caused them to blow leads, allow far too many goals, and give up a lot of high-danger scoring chances this season. Though they have shown the ability to play well in their own end, they are far too inconsistent, which is not a recipe for success if they want to push further into the playoffs and possibly win a Stanley Cup.

Moves are expected before the deadline, and topping their list of needs is a top-four left-shot defenceman who is a capable defender. Well, the Nashville Predators have a player who fits that perfectly and has been made available – Mattias Ekholm.

What Ekholm Would Provide the Oilers

Ekholm has been an impactful member of the Predators’ defence for many years and is part of the reason why they always have good numbers defensively. They aren’t getting the results they expected and are looking to make changes to their roster without rebuilding, and part of those changes are likely to involve the 10-year NHL veteran.

Mattias Ekholm Nashville Predators
Mattias Ekholm, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Oilers continue to have defensive breakdowns, and the 135 goals they’ve allowed in 40 games cannot solely be blamed on the goalies. Between bad turnovers, failed breakout attempts, and lost coverages in their own end, it has cost them and put them in a tough spot. They are a playoff team and have so much talent that failing to qualify for the postseason isn’t an option. General manager Ken Holland doesn’t normally swing for the fences in trades, but putting up the assets needed to bring in a defenceman like Ekholm would be worth it.

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Edmonton would be getting the 32-year-old for three and a half seasons. This may seem a bit too long, but the Oilers have to tighten up their play, and who better to help change the tune than a player who has been doing it for years? He is a top-four defenceman who can play both sides of the ice, and his Corsi is good for the starts he gets in the defensive zone. He is heavily relied upon in shorthanded situations and at key times in the game. While he is big (6-foot-4), will play the body, and is a great shot-blocker, he has offensive talent that is sometimes overlooked.

Ekholm Acquisition Would Have Impact on Other Oilers’ Defencemen

Darnell Nurse

Acquiring Ekholm would have an impact on the Oilers’ defence, beginning with Darnell Nurse. He eats up a ton of minutes and would have some relief if Ekholm were to enter the team’s top four. He may only be averaging 21:40 of ice time per game this season, playing on a team that has Roman Josi and Ryan McDonagh, but Ekholm has averaged just under 23 minutes per game over the past six seasons.

Nurse has made some bad turnovers, which have led directly to goals against. Ekholm doesn’t make those mistakes and could be on the ice in key moments when the Oilers have the lead. Nurse would still lead the team in average ice time (ATOI) but wouldn’t have to play over 25 minutes and be worn down as quickly.

Evan Bouchard

Ekholm’s arrival would also likely play a key role in Evan Bouchard’s development. He has taken a step back from last season, and that’s because he doesn’t have Duncan Keith as a partner. Instead, Bouchard has spent over 60 minutes at five-on-five with five different defencemen – Brett Kulak (184 minutes), Philip Broberg (137 min), Nurse (88), Markus Niemelainen (76 min), and Ryan Murray (63 min).

Evan Bouchard Edmonton Oilers
Evan Bouchard, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Bouchard needs stability and a calming presence who is capable defensively. Ekholm has spent nearly 1100 minutes with young defence partner Alexandre Carrier and 200 minutes with 24-year-old Dante Fabbro. He has more than enough experience mentoring young players, and Carrier has impressed since arriving on the scene last season.

Barrie & Broberg

Bringing in Ekholm for three more seasons would also force the Oilers to make decisions on Tyson Barrie and Philip Broberg. It would be very tough to fit Ekholm’s salary under the cap without moving Barrie’s $4.5 million, which runs through next season. Maybe the Oilers would be able to pull it off for the remainder of this season, but the offseason would see some money moved out. Bouchard is next in line to take on Barrie’s role, except Barrie has been the Oilers’ best defenceman this season, and it would be counterproductive to move him.

There would be no space for Broberg in the Oilers’ lineup, and since he’s NHL-ready, he would become their top trade asset. He could spend the rest of the season in the American Hockey League (AHL) since he’s already spent time there. Anything longer than that would hurt his development and be a waste of a good asset.

Cost to Acquire Ekholm

The Oilers likely won’t be able to get the Predators to retain half of Ekholm’s salary for three more seasons, but retaining 1/3 of the salary seems reasonable. That would bring his cap hit to about $4.2 million AAV, but Holland would have to be willing to give up a little more. I think it would be worth an extra third-round pick or prospect of similar value to have that cap freedom for Edmonton.

Mattias Ekholm Nashville Predators
Mattias Ekholm, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Ekholm won’t cost what the Arizona Coyotes are asking for Jakob Chychrun, but it may take Broberg and something else to get him. I mentioned that there won’t be room in the Oilers’ lineup for Broberg this season and possibly next if Ekholm is acquired. He would be a reasonable ask and a player the Oilers would be willing to part with to bring in the defenceman they desperately need right now.

The Oilers might be selling a bit of their future for a better chance to win right now, but as long as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are on the team, it’s a tradeoff they must do. Ekholm checks several boxes they’re looking for in a defender for this season and beyond, and he is the fix the team desperately needs.