Recent reports suggest the Nashville Predators are making defenseman Mattias Ekholm available via trade ahead of this year’s NHL Trade Deadline. A franchise that hasn’t played nearly as well as they would have liked, Ekholm was recently signed to a four-year contract extension at a cost of $6.25 million per season. He lacks trade protection and NHL insider Frank Seravalli has added him to his trade board, slotting him in at No. 7.
Noting the Predators will have to make hard decisions, Ekholm is too costly for a team that doesn’t look to be competitive this season. And, if the Predators are looking to retool or rebuild, he’ll be among the first players shopped to make room for prospects and draft picks. In fact, because he’s 32 years old, the Predators are best to trade him now, while he’s still got value.
Seravalli notes the Oilers might be a team with interest. He writes that the priority in Edmonton is to add a left-shooting defenseman who is well-rounded. He explains:
“The question being asked internally right now is whether that defenseman should stylistically be a puck-moving type or a defensive-minded defender. Edmonton feels like an ideal landing spot for someone like Vladislav Gavrikov, but maybe Mattias Ekholm is a nice blend of the two styles.”
What’s so interesting about this is that the Oilers were in a similar situation just over a year ago when they added Duncan Keith to their roster from the Chicago Blackhawks. Kieth was a key part of the Oilers’ run to the Western Conference Finals and it was a trade that worked out extremely well for both sides. One has to wonder if the Oilers can find the same kind of magic with a player like Ekholm.
The Similarities Between Keith and Ekholm
You can make a number of comparisons when looking at both Keith and Ekholm. First, their age and experience are key reasons the Oilers would be interested. When they added Keith, GM Ken Holland cited his vast playoff experience and Norris Trophy past. Holland likes his hockey-proven vets and while Ekholm has never reached the heights Keith did in his career, there’s a lot here that Ekholm can offer the Oilers that they don’t currently have.
The Oilers are missing a time-tested defenseman with playoff experience. Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie have both seen their share of post-season games, but Ekholm almost matches their combined totals. Like Keith, Ekholm plays a well-rounded game. He’ll probably not wow you with spectacular offensive moves, but he’s less prone to making mistakes and has seen every imaginable situation, which is what the Oilers need.
Ekholm would be a calming presence on a somewhat chaotic blue line.
A New Mentor For Evan Bouchard
One of the biggest drawbacks to losing Keith this season is what it’s done to Evan Bouchard‘s game. Bouchard is a shell of the player he was during the 2021-22 season and when slotted on the same pair as Keith. Getting another left-shot defenseman on the roster who can calm Bouchard down could be key to his development.
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The Oilers aren’t about to give up on Bouchard, but he perhaps needs a mentor who can work with him as the season rolls along. Slotting him with Markus Niemelainen or Philip Broberg isn’t getting the job done and if the Oilers add someone like Ekholm, there’s a good chance the acquisition exponentially helps the club as Bouchard is bound to improve his game with a more experienced partner. In many ways, it’s a two-for-one type of trade.
Not only that, but Ekholm’s addition limits the extended minutes for Darnell Nurse. That’s an important factor to consider and something Keith was able to do when a part of the Oilers’ roster.
The Differences Between Keith and Ekholm
There is one big difference between Eklhom and Keith and that is the contract that would come with the player. While the Oilers would have to commit time to a 32-year-old — something a number of fans would be vehemently against — there are ways the Oilers can limit their concerns here.
First, Ekholm is a few years younger than Keith, meaning he’s got at least a couple of additional seasons where he should be effective in the top four. Of the three seasons remaining after this one, Ekholm will provide value for at least two of them. Second, the Predators are in a position to have to retain salary. Ekholm’s $6.25 million cap hit is not going to be a go for most teams in the NHL and the Preds have cap space to work with. As such, the Preds will have little choice but to take a salary back or retain money in the deal. Edmonton could potentially get him for around $3.5 million and that works financially moving forward.
Like the Keith deal, there are some risks involved. Age and injury are certainly something the Oilers will want to consider if they seriously look at this. That said, there are enough positives here that they might outweigh the negatives.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”