With the April 12 NHL Trade Deadline looming closer and closer every day, we are starting to get a better understanding of which teams will be buyers and which will be sellers on one of the biggest days on the NHL season.
One team that is surely to be busy on April 12 regardless is the Nashville Predators. And one of the biggest names from the Predators being tossed around in trade conversation is top blueliner Mattias Ekholm.
Now of course, we don’t know what Predators’ GM Dave Poile is thinking, and this is all speculation. Ekholm may not even be moved at the deadline. One thing we do know, however, is that multiple teams throughout the NHL have inquired about Ekholm and what the asking price might be. We also know that Ekholm would be a huge addition to any team deep in the NHL playoff race. But with Nashville currently on a five game winning streak and surging into a playoff position, Poile may decide to keep his team as is. If Ekholm is in fact still on the market, let’s examine which five teams would make the most sense to make a hard push for the 30-year-old defenceman.
Current Cap Space (as per CapFriendly): $0
Let’s face it. The Edmonton Oilers are in cap hell. With very little wiggle room, it will be interesting to see what GM Ken Holland decides to do come Trade Deadline Day. That being said, there is a way the Oilers can pull some strings to grab the most coveted defenceman on the trade block.
Ekholm’s cap hit is currently sitting at $3.75M per year. He has one more year remaining on the 6-year, $22.5M contract he signed with the Predators at the beginning of the 2016-17 season. In order to pull off a trade, Holland would need to trade at least two depth players along with draft picks and possibly a prospect, considering Ekholm will not come cheap.
Nashville will be giving up a huge part of their blue line, so they will likely be asking for not necessarily a top-pairing defenceman in return, but at least an up-and-comer capable of playing big minutes if needed. In this case, I could see Ekholm heading to Edmonton in exchange for Alex Chiasson (UFA after this season), Caleb Jones (one year left on 2-year, $1.7M deal), a promising defensive prospect (6’2”, 198 lb defenceman Dmitri Samorukov) and a 2nd or 3rd round draft selection. Given the Oilers’ cap situation, Nashville would need to retain at least 25% of Ekholm’s salary.
It may seem like the Oilers are giving up a lot, but if I’m Holland I would gladly give up Jones if it meant I was getting Ekholm in return. And Edmonton has guys on their taxi squad that could fill the void left by Chiasson. For an Oilers team that looks poised to make a playoff run, Ekholm would provide them with added depth on the back end, alongside Nurse, Barrie, and Larsson to round out the top two pairings. Plus, Oscar Klefbom will be back with the team next season after having successful shoulder surgery last week. Call me crazy, but I think it makes sense.
Current Cap Space (as per CapFriendly): $2,221,012
The Boston Bruins have a little bit more cap space to play with than the Oilers do, and grabbing a stud defenceman at a very reasonable price in Ekholm would be a win for the B’s on Deadline Day.
The Bruins have been struggling in a lot of game aspects as of late. As of Tuesday morning, Boston currently sits 27th in the league in total goals scored, with 83. Only four teams have less goals, and all four teams are in the basement of their respective divisions; Anaheim (8th in West), Detroit (8th in Central), New Jersey (7th in East), and Buffalo (8th in East). Boston currently sits 4th in the East Division, one point ahead of Philadelphia for the final playoff spot in that division.
So what would it take to snag Ekholm and give the Bruins’ defence a much needed offensive boost? As noted previously, Ekholm’s asking price is high and would leave a hole in the Predators’ blue line, so a defenceman would definitely be going the other way. If I’m Bruins’ GM Don Sweeney, my top defensive pairing in Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk are untouchable. When those two are on the ice, the Bruins have outshot their opponents 93-33 during 5v5 action this season, and have a 7-1 advantage in goals scored during that same stretch. So now you have to look at the skilled young defencemen in your core, such as Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon.
I think it’s pretty fair to assume that Boston is in win-now mode, as a lot of their top guys such as Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are getting older and only have a handful of years left in the tank. They should be willing to give up part of their future in order to grab another cup before their core leaves. At Ekholm’s reasonable $3.75M cap hit, Boston would definitely be able to make a trade work with their $2.2M of available space. I think a fair trade for both sides would be Ekholm for Jake DeBrusk (one year left on 2-year, $7.35M deal), Clifton (2 years left on 3-year, $3M deal) a goaltending prospect (6’2”, 179 lb Kyle Keyser) and a first rounder.
Current Cap Space (as per CapFriendly): $4,067,172
Something is going on in Philly. And it’s not good. In fact, things are so off in Pennsylvania’s largest city that they put one of their best defencemen, Shayne Gostisbehere on waivers late Tuesday morning.
After a hot start that saw the Flyers go 8-3-2, the team has sported a 9-10-2 record since mid-February when their season was halted for over a week due to COVID-19 within the organization. The worst of those 10 losses include brutal 9-0 and 8-3 annihilations at the hands of the New York Rangers, and on Monday night they barely beat the abysmal 6-win Buffalo Sabres, as they trailed 3-0 at the second intermission before coming back to win 4-3 in overtime. A loss to the Sabres would have snapped Buffalo’s 17 game losing streak, and Philadelphia most certainly did not want to be that team.
Sitting 5th in the East and surely to be in tight playoff race down the stretch, the Flyers are most certainly in a position to consider making some impact moves on April 12. In fact, they’ve clearly already begun with the whole Gostisbehere-on-waivers situation. There are obvious holes on the blue line that need filled, as was evident in recent losses. Mattias Ekholm would fit in nicely alongside Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim, and with Gostisbehere likely to be picked up by another team in playoff contention, the Flyers would definitely have the room to add Ekholm to the back end.
With over $4 million in available cap space, Ekholm’s salary would not be an issue for the Flyers. The issue would be to find a suitable package to send to Nashville in return. If the Predators continue to surge, and if they even consider trading Ekholm at all, they’re going to have to get a proven blueliner in return. Enter Justin Braun.
Braun’s numbers this season don’t pop off the screen (3 assists, +8 in 31 games) but he is a veteran of 700 NHL games, and would bring experience to a Predators team that suddenly finds themselves in playoff contention. He has one year left on his 2-year, $3.6M contract, so the Predators would not need to extend him this offseason either. Add in a depth forward in Michael Raffl (UFA after this season) and a first-rounder to sweeten the pot, and we’ve got a deal that doesn’t actually look too bad for either side. The only potential uncertainty with this is if Philadelphia will want to even include a defenceman given their scenario.
Current Cap Space (as per CapFriendly): $0
The Winnipeg Jets are having themselves a season. They have arguably the best top-six in the league, they have been getting great goaltending from Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck as of late, and they have maintained a shutdown style of defensive play all season. Combine that with a great coaching and management staff, and you’ve got a Stanley Cup contender. But do the Winnipeg Jets really need anything else? In a year where money is tight and the Jets have little-to-no available space, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is faced with a hard task, but certainly not an impossible one.
Snagging Ekholm on Deadline Day would be the icing on the cake for this Winnipeg team and would undoubtedly turn them into a legitimate contender. As will be the case for almost every team, the hard part will be putting together a return package. The Jets are another team starting to enter win-now mode, as their core of Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Pierre-Luc Dubois (most of which are in or entering their prime) can only be together for so long.
Sitting second in the tight North Division, with just two points separating first place from third and the top three teams starting to pull away from the rest of the pack, the Winnipeg Jets are basically guaranteed to make the postseason. The only questions right now surrounding their season are what place they finish in, and what the team does on the twelfth of April.
So what will be a suitable deal to bring Ekholm to Manitoba’s capital? We know that the Jets have inquired about Ekholm and therefore obviously have interest in him. Jets’ defenceman Neal Pionk (RFA after this season) is emerging into a great shutdown player, and you may have to sacrifice him while his value is somewhat high. Another Jets player with a seemingly high value is centerman Andrew Copp, who has quietly put up 27 points in 36 games this season. Like Pionk, Copp will also become an RFA at season’s end. Send a prospect centerman (6’2”, 191 lb Dominic Toninato) and a 3rd round pick Nashville’s way as well if you really want to intrigue them.
This may seem like a lot for Winnipeg to give up for one guy, but keep in mind that this deal would also shed the cap space needed to grab Ekholm, and a good chunk of guys have no-movement clauses. Don’t be surprised if Cheveldayoff asks for a late-round draft pick to come his way as well. Bingo, we’ve got ourselves a deal!
Current Cap Space (as per CapFriendly): $780,268
What a story the Minnesota Wild have been this season! I think it’s fair to assume that most of us expected them to battle for a playoff spot in the Central, but did we expect them at this point in the season to be 4 points back of Colorado with one game in hand?! I sure didn’t!
Wild GM Bill Guerin has done a great job with this team since he took over, the question is if he will be a buyer or a seller on Deadline Day. Is it in the cards to build on your defence and make a huge trade for Ekholm? And what would Minnesota have to give up?
At this point, with the Wild sitting at 21-10-2 with 23 games left, the options are endless. Do you sacrifice a forward to grab Ekholm? Let me run an option by you.
The Wild currently have one of the best top two defensive pairings in the league (Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin). The emergence of young defenceman Carson Soucy is looking very promising for the Wild, and their January trade for Ian Cole is working well in their favour. With Ekholm’s asking price relatively high, what if we throw two defencemen into the mix? Nashville could get two NHL defencemen for the price of one, and in a time where Nashville is finding their stride, that could work in the Predators’ favour.
If the Wild want to take a legitimate shot at Ekholm and solidify probably the best three defensive pairings in hockey (Ekholm, Spurgeon, Suter, Dumba, Brodin, Cole), here’s what makes the most sense to me: Carson Soucy (2 years left on 3-year, $8.25M contract), Brad Hunt (UFA after this year; solid 3rd-pairing NHL caliber blueliner) and a 4th round draft selection. If this happens, look out for Minnesota! Instant Cup contenders for sure.
What are your thoughts on these potential trade scenarios? Do you think Ekholm gets dealt at the Deadline?
One thing is for sure. April 12 will be an exciting day, regardless.
Featured photo courtesy of John Glennon / The Athletic
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