With just under two months until the NHL trade deadline, things appear calm on the surface. With the situation surrounding COVID, salary cap implications and such, things may remain relatively calm even up until April 12th. While that’s all well and good, the Flyers might not have that kind of time to bide until they need to make a move. The special teams are floundering as of late. The defense is par the course, which isn’t a good thing. While the Flyers are still sitting pretty in the East Division, how long will that last?
Fact is, it shouldn’t get to the point where we do find out how long the Flyers can cling on before they start descending the divisional ranks. Chuck Fletcher already seemed to have exhausted all options in the offseason trying to replace Matt Niskanen on the blueline. That was the offseason. With the 2020/21 season going on now, teams have been tagged as sellers and one team Chuck should get on the horn is the Nashville Predators. Sitting in seventh place in the Central Division with a 7-10-0 record, the Preds could be ripe for the picking. Add in the situation on defense with multiple quality players and only a select few protection spots for the expansion draft, and Chuck should have David Poile on speed dial.
Nashville has a plethora of quality defenseman, NHL level and beyond. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Dante Fabbro are all-but locks to be protected this offseason for the expansion draft. Add in a prospect like David Farrance and Nashville is looking good along their blueline. With all three basically being safe from Seattle, that leaves Mattias Ekholm exposed and likely being plucked for nothing.
Nashville is quickly approaching a potential re-tool or rebuild, and will likely be trying to acquire either prospects or picks in exchange for their quality veterans. The Flyers have all their picks in tact for the foreseeable future, and a prospect pool that is brimming with solid youngsters. Seems like a match made in heaven, right?
Mattias Ekholm would essentially be the successor to Matt Niskanen. While Niskanen’s departure left a hole that was not addressed, Ekholm could be that steadfast presence that seemed to compliment Ivan Provorov so well on the first pairing. His big frame (6’4”, 215lbs) paired with his defensive soundness mimics that of Matt Niskanen, but potentially better. Both of their best years were fairly similar, with Ekholm notching 44 points in 2018/19 and Niskanen accumulating 46 points in his last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013/14.
Ekholm is no stranger to playing big minutes as well. During the four years prior to this season, he averaged over 23 minutes per night for the Preds. Niskanen was averaging just under 22 minutes for the Flyers in his one season in orange and black. Some of those minutes came on the penalty kill as well, something the Flyers have been struggling with this season. While Nashville sits one spot lower than the Flyers currently, Philadelphia has killed 35 of 49 penalties (71.4%), the third-worst mark in the league.
This one could be a doozie. While we aren’t talking a king’s ransom of a return, it’s going to take a lot to pry Mattias Ekholm from Poile and the Preds. He likely will be the most sought after defenseman on the market, which automatically means bids may be a lot higher than normal. However, pair that with the stagnant cap and it may lessen the asking price for the 30 year-old blueliner. Either way, there are obstacles that the Flyers will need to overcome.
First and foremost if the deal were to happen today, the Flyers would have to clear somewhere in the ballpark of $2.25 million from their books to be compliant. Ekholm’s contract would be prorated, so the longer the Flyers wait until the deadline, the less cap they’ll have to shed in order to fit him under. The longer they wait, however, they run the risk of missing out on Ekholm’s services. Not to mention, the Flyers could use help immediately. The season is short and every point matters. Getting the help you need as soon as you can should be a priority.
Nashville will likely be looking for a hefty return in the form of prospects and/or draft picks. The Flyers have no shortage of either, and should look to sweeten the deal with either/or. It will either take multiple prospects/picks or a rostered player and pick(s) to obtain Ekholm’s services for the rest of this season and next. While it’s fun to boast about the quality of the prospect pool that could help the Flyers down the road, many would argue it’s more fun to boast about immediate success. Parting with picks or prospects should be the first thing Fletcher looks to do in order to make this deal happen.
Go out and get Mattias Ekholm. He provides something that the Flyers are in desperate need of. We saw it last season, Ivan Provorov thrived with a defensively responsible, veteran defenseman. Bringing in Ekholm would have about the same impact if not better that Niskanen did, adding some stability to a defensive corps that absolutely needs it. Depending on when Ekholm could be traded, we’ll see how the market pans out. Maybe his deal sets the going rate for defensemen. Maybe Poile lets someone else set the market. Either way, the Flyers should have enough to give in return to obtain Ekholm’s services for the rest of this season and next.
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