Maple Leafs Can Bulk Up Defence with Predators’ Ekholm

It’s the new year and the NHL trade talk continues to heat up with players constantly being added to watch and trade lists. For the Toronto Maple Leafs and given where they’re currently in the standings, they’re expected to be buyers at the deadline in hopes of making a deep playoff run. 

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The Maple Leafs have been already been connected to some big names on the market like Jakob Chychrun and Ryan O’Reilly. However, there might be another name that could be of great interest to them as the deadline approaches. 

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Daily Faceoffs’ Frank Seravalli recently added Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm to his trade list and could get some attention. The Maple Leafs have been previously linked to him in the past and he could be a prime target this time around. Should general manager Kyle Dubas look to add another defender, he shouldn’t hesitate to do so.

Poile in a Tough Situation

Within Seravalli’s list, he mentions that Predators general manager David Poile is in a tough spot with his roster where a lot of players have a lot of term on their contracts. Ekholm has been brought up as a name to try and shake things up. 

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

Seeing as he doesn’t have a no trade clause, Ekholm is easily the name to be moved in a deal. It really doesn’t make sense to move a player that has been a cornerstone defender on your roster that you signed to an extension last season. Though sometimes a difficult decision needs to be made as the Predators do seem to be taking a step back as a playoff contender. 

Ekholm is in the first year of his extension, a $6.25 million dollar average annual salary, which might be a lot for a player where his game might start to trend downward. At the moment, he remains extremely effective as a two-way defender. A team like the Maple Leafs could very well be interested as Seravalli also has them as a landing spot for him. He explains the market and comparable deals that could be done to acquire him, notably the price the Philadelphia Flyers paid to acquire Ryan Ellis from the Predators in 2021 and the Mark Giordano trade to Toronto last season. 

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Knowing the Maple Leafs and how salary was retained in the Giordano trade, there is most likely a possibility that could be in play again this time as Ekholm’s salary is just under what Giordano was making at the time. If it’s around the same asking price, the Maple Leafs would definitely be interested if the Predators retain a good portion of his contract. 

Ekholm Can Replace Muzzin

If there was any perfect comparable to Jake Muzzin, it would probably be Ekholm. Luckily, that’s what Seravalli sees as the comparison.

It makes sense, seeing how Muzzin was a minute eater for the Maple Leafs before the injuries started and forced him onto long-term injured reserve. He would be a physical force, close gaps very well and would chip in offensively every now and then. It makes sense for Ekholm to be a suitable replacement for Muzzin.

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Ekholm’s production doesn’t stand out with 14 points this season, but he has been a workhorse for the Predators, averaging around 21 to 23 minutes a game from 2016-17 to 2022-23. He is second to only Roman Josi in even strength time on ice and logs major minutes on the penalty kill, being third with 2:46 per game. Ekholm’s great at getting into the lanes to block shots as he’s fifth on the team with 51. If he were on the Maple Leafs, he would be third behind Mark Giordano and Justin Holl. 

Ekholm also seems to play well against elite level competition. This season, while his Corsi for (shot attempts) is just below league average at 49.1%, he manages to be an integral part offensively as he has a high goals for percentage at 58.3%. While he can jump in every now and then, he’s better suited as a defensive specialist. Given how the Maple Leafs have a number of puck movers on the team, he can get back to what he excels at.

What stands out about Ekholm’s game is his how simplistic his defensive play is. He’s effective in clearing the puck very well and mitigates any chances in the high danger area, showing no panic. Seeing as the Maple Leafs have been better in that area this season, having that kind of calm presence on the backend would definitely help any team out, including the Maple Leafs.

Don’t Mess With Success?

Given Ekholm’s ability to be a steady two-way defender, acquiring him would be a major boost to an already deep defensive unit. Ekholm coming in as a replacement for Muzzin– if he remains on LTIR– is just what they need. 

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Though, the Maple Leafs defense appears to be just fine as they remain at the top of every defensive category. They find themselves third in goals against per game with 2.61 and fifth in shots against per game with 28.5. As a team they have also allowed the seventh fewest shots against at five-on-five with 880, according to Natural Stat Trick. Would some extra defensive help be beneficial? Absolutely, but defense is already an area of strength for this team. 

Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In addition, there is also a log jam on the left side and you can’t rule out the play of Rasmus Sandin. He has played against tougher competition, logged important minutes and has answered the call when given an opportunity to succeed. In addition, he’s quicker in transition than Ekholm and can lead a rush. Would it be wise to take him out of the lineup for Ekholm as he has done everything to make his mark? It’s definitely something to consider as Sandin has been impressive this season. 

Ekholm is definitely a name to consider for the Maple Leafs blueline ahead of the deadline. Given his ability to provide a shutdown role like Muzzin and get involved offensively, he would make a team that has played well defensively all season a lot deeper for a long playoff run. If Dubas feels Ekholm is the answer, it’ll be a great addition.

Statistics from Natural Stat Trick, Cap Friendly, Puck IQ and NHL.

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