If Mattias Ekholm gets traded, where might he fit?

The big Swede’s name has been featured heavily in trade rumors lately, but who exactly could be interested?

I hoped that I’d never have to write this article. Mattias Ekholm is my favorite player of all time, and it’s always been my desire (however unrealistic) that he’d remain a Pred forever and continue to delight me with his fantastic, steady-Eddy play. However, that fantasy has been dissipated lately with recent news and rumors. Pierre Lebrun of The Athletic ran a piece detailing possible trade destinations for the “Big Swedish Redwood,” proving that it’s not just fans speculating, and there may be some fire under the smoke. Naturally, as the preeminent Ekholm fan in the universe, I feel I’m an authority to talk about where I think he’d fit. Let’s dive in.

The Philadelphia Flyers

This is the best possible destination for Ekholm, and I say that without an ounce of bias. I know the player and these two teams well, and they form the best possible relationship to make a mutually beneficial deal here. Let me break it down.

Why does this make perfect sense?

Ekholm is a cost-controlled defender who GMs see as at least a top-pair caliber player. In my opinion, he’s still capable of being a team’s rock and number one defender, a role he’s never had the opportunity to fulfill before. Still, at the bare minimum, he’s the only affordable player of his type in terms of salary for most contenders across the league. The return he nets ought to be a hefty sum featuring high draft picks and a top prospect, but we’ll see if David Poile manages to maximize the return here.

The Flyers, meanwhile, are incredibly cap strapped, have a gigantic hole where former defensive veteran Matt Niskanen was last year, and boast an incredibly deep and talented prospect pool, in addition to the ample young talent on their roster. Philly has plenty of assets to trade, an easy set of contracts to offload (Erik Gustafsson has an expiring deal for $3 million AAV, and the inclusion of an ELC like Morgan Frost could make the cap work), and a good reason to go all-in: the kids will all need to get paid soon. Chuck Fletcher is no stranger to aggressive trades involving young, talented assets (Brent Burns) and likely sees that the team is clearly within a championship window with the addition of one more piece.

What could prevent a trade from working?

Well, a number of things, chief among them David Poile. If the Predators don’t like the assets coming back or any of the top prospects available to them, most trade offers would be dead on arrival. With that said, the Flyers have a lot to offer, so I doubt this would be a problem.

The other, bigger issue is Philly’s cap situation. The Flyers would need to open up around $3.5 million in cap space to fit Ekholm, and the players they’d be moving in order to do so are likely negative assets within the trade given their contracts.

What could a trade look like?

So, I’ve come up with three possibilities. Trade 1: Erik Gustafsson, Morgan Frost, a 2022 first-round pick and 2021 conditional second-rounder for Ekholm (the condition being related to playoff wins and having the option to turn into a first-rounder). Trade 2: Scott Laughton, Nolan Patrick and a 2021 second-round pick, with Nashville retaining a bit of Ekholm’s salary. Trade 3: Shayne Gostisbehere, a 2022 first and 2021 conditional second for Ekholm.

Take your pick of the litter there, but all are feasible offers with decent value going both ways. The most likely one for me in terms of realism is option No. 1, but the most intriguing is door No. 2; if Nolan Patrick comes back the other way, the rebuild and reload situation in Nashville gets considerably more interesting.

The Boston Bruins

The Bruins make a lot of sense for similar reasons to the Flyers, but I’ll outline it again for emphasis.

Why does this make perfect sense?

Boston is a team in win-now mode that has a decent amount of youth to offer. The Bruins clearly aren’t shy with selling draft picks and lost a lot of experience on the blue line with the departure of Torey Krug and Zdeno Chára in the offseason. Ekholm fills the hole that Chára left at a low cost, and steps in as a legitimately great player to stabilize the team’s young defensive core.

Nashville seems to be more interested in a “reload” than a rebuild, so a team like Boston with young, mid-tier players to offer is a good match. Guys like Jake DeBrusk and Brandon Carlo will be tantalizing if made available, and I wouldn't be shocked if they end up being the centerpiece of any trade talks.

What could prevent a trade from working?

Do the Bruins really need Ekholm? Boston seems to be having no trouble with defensive play from what I’ve seen this year, and while they’re suffering from injuries on the back end at the moment a trade for a currently-hurt Ekholm doesn’t exactly fix that. The Bruins are built to contend until Patrice Bergeron’s legs fall off, and they honestly shouldn’t go selling the farm for a redundant good player unless they genuinely feel that he’s the piece needed to take them back to the Final.

From a Poile perspective, do the Bruins offer any legitimately great talent? DeBrusk is a fine middle-six winger, Carlo is a fine second-pair guy, but are any of their young players truly transcendent talents in the making? Doubtful, and acquiring good-not-great talent just puts the Preds back to square one within a few years. Teams like Philly and the other two I’m gonna discuss could offer better impact prospects in a deal, making them more appealing if Poile does decide to shift gears into a rapid rebuild rather than futilely attempting to contend.

What could a trade look like?

I have two ideas here for a trade, but the Bruins could get pretty creative given the amount of cap space they have available. Trade 1: Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork and a 2021 fourth for Mattias Ekholm. Trade 2: Jakub Zboril, Nick Ritchie and a 2022 first for Mattias Ekholm.

Do I like either of those trades? Hell no. Could I see David Poile making both of them? Absolutely. It all depends on what he’s going to do with the direction of this team. Is the goal to simply shake up the NHL roster and inject some youth into the forward group, or is he looking for a short-term rebuild? These are questions I can’t answer, but the trades above accomplish both.

The Carolina Hurricanes

Now we get to the less-obvious candidates for a trade. I personally feel that the Hurricanes are a great destination for Ekholm for a number of reasons.

Why does this make perfect sense?

Carolina is a team clearly built on playing suffocating hockey that emphasizes a rapid counterattack. The forward group and defense are solid as is, so there’s not really much reason to improve there. Why does this mean they make sense? Well, their goaltending is, uhh, not great. The Canes will probably need to be flawless in front of the Reimer/Nedeljkovic/Mrazek carousel, and the blue line possesses some weak links, chief among them Hadyn Fleury. The big, talented defender hasn’t had a bad season by any means, but he’s not exactly a stud and has work to do before he gets there.

The Hurricanes would boast the best defensive group in the league by a wide margin, letting them shelter the goaltending en route to a deep postseason run. Ekholm is great defensively and is well-liked by analytics, so he’s a desirable asset for another team that’s clearly just a piece away from winning it all.

What could prevent a trade from working?

The lack of true “need” here is the biggest issue. With Jake Bean coming up and showing a ton of promise, a young core has formed on the blue line in Raleigh that might not need to be broken up in order to win a championship. The Canes also aren’t prone to selling future assets for current ones unless they clearly win the deal; they’re an incredibly cunning front office group that might make a trade difficult to justify for Poile (who is likely looking for a clear win coming back the other way).

For Nashville, they’re probably demanding a guy like Seth Jarvis, which is a big ask. Carolina is vehemently against selling the farm and Jarvis is a dynamic impact player in the making. Can I dream of a Jarvis/Tomasino combo like I did this past draft? Yes, but it isn’t exactly feasible.

What could a trade look like?

I’ll be honest: I have no idea. Carolina has little precedent in trades for win-now pieces, so it’s difficult to project whether they’d be willing to ship out a guy like Jarvis or even a Dominik Bokk when the two are the future of the organization's forward core. I’ll leave this area blank because I don’t want to engage in any nonsensical conjecture here.

The Florida Panthers

This is the team that maybe makes the most sense in terms of “need,” but there are reasons why I put them last on my list.

Why does this make perfect sense?

Despite starting the season hot, Florida remains an absolute tire fire defensively. Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad struggle to shut down opposing teams, and the forward group (while improved) still lacks the depth and ability to provide adequate support in their own end. With a shaky goaltending situation and plenty of cap space, Florida will have no issues going all-in and grabbing a guy like Ekholm to cover for these problems. The Predators could net a good return of prospects or picks from Florida without taking on any undesirable contracts, something that I’m sure would appeal to David Poile.

What could prevent a trade from working?

In a phrase, a lack of ability to sell the future. Florida is not a team with an especially deep pipeline, and their NHL depth isn’t fantastic either. Their top two prospects are a goalie (no dice there given the presence of Askarov in the Nashville prospect pool) and a center that Nashville passed on for Askarov. While I’m sure the Predators would like to add Lundell and some picks to their rebuild/reload, I don’t know if he’d be a centerpiece for any trades. Owen Tippett could be in play, but again given the shallow NHL roster in Sunrise and his lack of NHL impact I don’t see him being the crux of a deal.

Put simply, what exactly do the Panthers have to offer that would be better than what other teams could sell you? With the Sergei Bobrovsky contract weighing down the team’s ability to add free-agent talent, they can’t afford to trade many high draft picks to buoy the trade value of this deal, so it would probably just be about prospects for the player. I don’t know that Nashville would be especially interested in that kind of deal unless they secretly love a player we don’t know about.

What could a trade look like?

Well, again this is a big mystery, but I’ll take a crack at it. The Panthers send Anton Lundell, a 2021 second and a 2022 first for Mattias Ekholm, with Nashville retaining a slight amount of salary. Nashville gets a good, nearly-NHL ready center prospect with solid upside and a high floor, as well as more assets for the rebuild. Florida pays a premium to acquire Ekholm for the roster to fix their biggest hole.

Are any of these trades that I’ve manufactured any good or grounded in reality? Probably not, but whatever. I don’t take them that seriously and I’m sure the value is a bit lopsided. That said, these teams all make sense, and I would love to see Ekholm on any of them (save the Bruins, because their fans are often insufferable and don’t appreciate Craig Smith enough).