With the trade deadline now less than a month away it’s time to start looking at potential targets that could solidify the Bruins as a Cup contender. Contrary to popular belief the biggest need the team currently has is defense, not offense. While the Bruins have gone through offensive struggles they have the talent to be one of the better offensive teams. The name at the top of the available defensemen list is Mattias Ekholm. A career Nashville Predator Ekholm would provide a veteran presence along with some stellar two-way play. The price to acquire a player of Ekholm’s caliber will be steep. However, with a team-friendly cap hit of just 3.75 million this year and next, it is a price worth paying.
Drafted in the 4th round of the 09 NHL Draft Ekholm has spent his entire career with the Nashville Predators. At 6’4 215lbs he would bring some much-needed size to the Bruins back end. While not the most physical defender with a career-high of only 75 hits Ekholm has blocked over 100 shots in six straight seasons. Mattias Ekholm would also provide a strong offensive game. He has topped 30 points four times with a career-high of 44 points coming in the 18-19 season. That 18-19 season also saw Ekholm finish in the top 10 of the Norris Trophy voting. With other offensively talented defenders like Ellis and Josi in Nashville, it only makes Ekholm’s offensive numbers even more impressive.
In each of the last four seasons, Mattias Ekholm has played over 23 minutes per game, showing he is a proven top 4 option. With 558 games of NHL experience, Ekholm has played almost as many games as the Bruins’s current top 6 defensemen. Ekholm would provide a veteran presence that will help the Bruins’ young defense develop. Ekholm will turn 31 this season so he could also be a Bruin for years to come. With this year and next left on his contract carrying a 3.75 million dollar cap hit he will be a highly sought-after commodity at the deadline.
Why Nashville Trades Mattias Ekholm
Now you might be asking yourself, if Ekholm is so good why would Nashville trade him? The first reason is the standings. In 28 games Nashville is 11-16-1 with a -29 goal differential. That record has them 10 points out of a playoff spot behind the 14-10-5 Chicago Blackhawks with just a single game in hand. The Preds are also missing several key players to injuries so that record will only get worse. Since their Stanley Cup Finals loss in 16-17 Nashville’s seasons have ended earlier and earlier. This trend saw Nashville lose to Arizona in the play-in round last summer.
The next reason is age. Entering the season Nashville was tied with Vegas as the fourth oldest team in the league. An older team falling further and further from contending the Preds desperately need an infusion of youth into their lineup. The final reason is the upcoming Seattle expansion draft. With teams only able to protect either seven forwards and three defensemen or just eight skaters, it’s likely Nashville goes the seven and three route. Those three defenseman spots will be filled by Josi, Ellis, and Fabbro leaving Ekholm as the odd man out. Instead of losing Ekholm for nothing in the expansion draft, Nashville could jump-start their rebuild with a significant haul of assets by trading him.
Why The Bruins Trade For Mattias Ekholm
As previously stated the Bruins could use another proven top 4 defensemen if they are serious about contending. Injuries have hit the Bruins blueline hard over the last few weeks. Lauzon is recovering from a broken bone in his hand. Carlo is week to week after suffering a likely concussion. Kevan Miller has been out with a knee injury and considering his history it’s unlikely he is rushed back into action. Even John Moore has surfaced on the IR for an undisclosed injury.
That leaves the Bruins with only two defensemen with over 100 games of NHL experience in Grzelcyk and McAvoy. Grzelcyk has also had his struggles staying in the lineup. That leaves Zboril, Vaakanainen, Clifton, and Tinordi as the remaining four members of the top 6. While they have all performed above expectations that is not a group any of us should have confidence in being able to win a Stanley Cup. Ekholm has been a consistent presence in Nashville’s lineup missing no more than two games each of the last six seasons. Even once everyone is back am healthy Ekholm would allow everyone to play in roles they should be more comfortable will.
What Will It Cost
Here is an article from the fourth period comparing the expected price to what it cost the Leafs to acquire Jake Muzzin. Muzzin was acquired back during the 18-19 season and had a cap hit of 4 million dollars with an additional season still left. The price was a 2019 first-round pick and two prospects. Those prospects were Carl Grundstrom the 57th pick in 2016 and Sean Durzi the 52nd pick in 2018.
To make the money work the first obvious choice going out is Jake Debrusk. With a 3.65 million dollar cap hit the money is almost even and Jake could benefit from a change of scenery. The Bruins would also have to add their 2021 first-round pick. With Debrusk off to a slow start and the lack of scouting because of COVID, both assets will have a reduced value.
Now we move on to a pair of prospects. First is the 58th pick from 2020 Mason Lohrei. Mason has spent 2020-2021 in the USHL scoring 47 points in just 36 games. That has him ranked fifth in league scoring and first among defensemen by 14 points. The next prospect is forward Oskar Steen. The former 2016 sixth-round pick has come a long way since being drafted. As a 21-year-old he played in 46 SHL games and scored 37 points some impressive numbers. His jump to the AHL wasn’t too successful at first but in 12 games this season he already has 8 points. So that is a 2021 1st, Debrusk, Lohrei, and Steen for Ekholm. A steep price for sure but well worth it considering what Ekholm would bring.
With Ekholm likely the top available defenseman there is sure to be a long list of interested teams. Here is another article that covers what some of those teams and their offers might be. What do you the fans think? Would you make the trade? Coach Cassidy has already called out the effort of the team. A big move like this would shake up the locker room and show the players if they don’t put in the work they won’t be here long. This team is built to win now and this trade moves them closer to achieving that goal. As always stay safe out there and LET’S GO BRUINS!
Featured image courtesy of John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images.