Oilers should make potential trade target Ekholm a top-priority blue line add

Jan 4 2023, 9:13 pm

Mattias Ekholm could be hitting the trade market, and Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland should put fellow executive David Poile on speed dial.

Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff added Ekholm to his first trade targets board of 2023, slotting the Nashville Predators defenceman at seven on his list.

Seravalli’s trade board “seeks to blend a player’s prominence with his likelihood of a trade” before the March 3 trade deadline.

“Yes, it was just over a year ago that Ekholm signed a four-year deal worth $25 million with the Predators, mainly to avoid a situation like this one — where he is on the market,” Seravalli wrote. “But Predators GM David Poile has some uncomfortable decisions to make as Nashville has regressed to a likely non-playoff team saddled with expensive, term-laden contracts.

“We’re told Poile is ready to consider moving Ekholm and will have a few other cards on the table.”

Ekholm, who doesn’t have any “no-trade” protection in his contract, has 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in 35 games with Nashville this season, and has three additional years remaining on a deal that pays him $6.25 million annually.

Adding help to the blue line is a “top priority” for the Oilers, TSN’s Darren Dreger said last month.

“What we know is defence is an area of concern for the Oilers,” Dreger said on Insider Trading on Tuesday. “It was going into the season and it continues to be. The Edmonton Oilers need a top defenceman.”

Rumours have circled around Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes and, though squashed, Erik Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks.

But Ekholm, a left-shot defense-first defender, might be the best fit.

Edmonton is, after all, the owner of the 12th-worst goals-against average at 3.36 per game. That’s the third-worst among teams currently occupying a playoff spot.

The 32-year-old Ekholm, who has amassed 263 points (60 goals, 203 assists) over parts of 12 seasons in Nashville, leads the Predators with a 53.61 corsi-for mark and an expected goals-for percentage of 57.07. He is second behind Norris Trophy-winning blueliner Roman Josi with a 29.15 expected goals-for.

Ekholm has been on the ice for 99 high-danger chances against, an average of 2.75 per game, according to Natural Stat Trick, while playing 21:41 per contest — including 2:42 shorthanded. By comparison, Oilers’ top defenceman Darnell Nurse has averaged four high-danger chances against while playing 23:56 per game.

There’ll be two obstacles in moving Ekholm from the mustard and navy to the blue and orange, however.

Cap and cost.

Edmonton is almost $9.5 million into long-term injury reserve space, with Evander Kane moving his status from month-to-month to week-to-week, meaning fitting Ekholm will take some tightrope walking.

He’s not about to be given away for free, either, meaning the Oilers — whose championship window has never been more open in the past decade — may need to expense a first-round pick and a top young defenceman back.

Expensive on both fronts.

But, should Ekholm be open, a call has to be made from the Oilers.

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