Panthers’ Aaron Ekblad Is a Shell of What He Once Was

The Florida Panthers have struggled mightily this season. With every game comes a new injury, and the season is slowly slipping away with every loss. The worst part? It’s not even 2023 yet. They have a 16-16-4 record and 36 points, which puts them below the final wild-card spot or for third in the division by seven points. It seems all hope was sucked from the team over the past three months.

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One of the biggest reasons that the team is having a disastrous season is their defense, which has struggled to keep the puck out of the net, averaging 3.35 goals against per game and 31.5 shots a game. They also have an overall goal differential of -2. Many expected the Panthers’ top defenseman, Aaron Ekblad, to be one of the few bright spots on the team, but, unfortunately, he’s had arguably the worst season of his career, and he looks like a shell of the elite defenseman he once was.

Ekblad Is “Ek-bad”

To say Ekblad is having a bad season is an understatement. He only has 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) through 23 games, a minus-14 rating, which is the worst on the team, and 25 giveaways, the second-highest on the team. Despite all this, he ranks second in average ice time, playing nearly 25 minutes a game.

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The Panthers’ top defenseman has clearly regressed. The team does have options and can turn to Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour, in times of need, but it is heartbreaking to see Ekblad struggle so much.

Injuries Are Ruining him

As previously mentioned, Ekblad’s injury history is something that doctors are scared to see. Before the start of his third season in Florida, he suffered whiplash during the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. While he was able to dress for the start of the new season, he might not have completely healed as he only had 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) through 63 games and had an abhorrent minus-23 rating – the worst of his career. In addition, he suffered a concussion that kept him out for a couple of games that same season.

Aaron Ekblad Florida Panthers
Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In the shortened 2020-21 season, he suffered a broken leg that ended his season and needed surgical repair. Before his injury, he was putting up Norris-caliber numbers, finishing with 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) through 35 games and a plus-5 rating. The very next season, he suffered another bad leg injury that kept him sidelined until the postseason. That regular season was his best as a Panther with 57 points (15 goals, 42 assists) and a whopping plus-38 rating. In the postseason, he tallied five points (a goal and four assists) through 10 games.

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This season, he suffered an injury against the Boston Bruins on Oct. 17 that put him on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). Not long after he returned, he suffered another injury and left in the first period of a game against the New York Islanders on Dec. 23; the severity of this injury is still unknown.

His Glory Years Are Already Over

Ekblad’s early years were great. He became the second player in Panthers history to win the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year in 2015. Two years later, he was given the “A” on his jersey and became an alternate captain for the team, which he still holds today.

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In addition, he’s been named to multiple All-Star Games throughout his career, but those days appear to be over for the 26-year-old.

Will He Be On the Trade Block?

It is unknown what the future holds for Ekblad, but he carries a $7.5 million cap hit and the Panthers need all the cash they can get going into the trade deadline. However, the defensive structure of the team will be craving depth even more so if he gets dealt as they’re already relying on younger pieces and waiver acquisitions.

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It seems Ekblad’s days as a Panther are numbered. He’ll go down in history as one of the greatest to suit up for the Cats, but his play is in decline, and it is unknown if he’ll ever regain his form. Hopefully, he can rejuvenate his career in some way, shape, or form. But as of now, he may have to consider a trade or even a possible retirement from the game.