Edmonton Oilers solidify blueline with acquisition of Mattias Ekholm

Photo credit:James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 year ago
The Edmonton Oilers have made a massive addition to their blueline acquiring defenceman Mattias Ekholm from the Nashville Predators in a blockbuster deal.
This deal comes hours after the team traded forward Jesse Puljujarvi to the Carolina Hurricanes, a move that undoubtedly helped the team clear the cap space needed to acquire Ekholm.
To get Ekholm, the Oilers are giving up defenceman Tyson Barrie, prospect Reid Schaefer, as well as Edmonton’s first and fourth-round draft picks this season. Edmonton also acquires a sixth-round pick from the Predators. Nashville has reported retained four percent of Ekholm’s salary
The return on this deal is, in one sense of the term, hard to fathom. Moving on from Tyson Barrie is a surprise. He’s a player who the Oilers love in the room and he’s been arguably the Oilers’ most consistent defender this season. It’s been reported that Edmonton’s been hesitant to move on from Schaefer in previous potential deals, so I would be curious to know what changed their opinions.
Ekholm, 32, is a native of Borlange, Sweden, and has appeared in 57 games this season for the Predators scoring five goals and 18 points. Drafted by the team in the 4th round of the 2009 draft, Ekholm has spent his entire 719-game career in the Music City.
In him, the Oilers are acquiring a legitimate top-four defenceman who is going to will be able to play 22 minutes a night on either side of the blue line. His scoring rates have dipped from his peak as a defenceman and Ekholm’s .7 points per hour at 5×5 this season would rank second worst on the Oilers’ blueline to only Cody Ceci’s .43 points per hour. That being said, Ekholm’s 5.5 shots per hour would rank third behind only Darnell Nurse and Evan Bouchard. The Predators have nowhere near the offensive talent the Oilers do, so it’s not unreasonable to think that Ekholm’s offensive numbers could improve down the back half of the year.
Defensively, however, Ekholm is as sound as ever. Ekholm’s suppression rates would have him near the top of the ranks for the Oilers. His shot attempts against per hour at 5×5 (54.12 CA/60) would rank third behind Philip Broberg and Evan Bouchard, while, his 2.21 goals against per hour would rank second behind only Vincent Desharnais.
According to hockeyviz.com, Ekholm has provided offence at a three percent rate above league average this season and defence at a 10 percent rate above league average. Ekholm also has spent time killing penalties but does so this year at a two percent rate below the league average.
Edmonton is picking up a defenceman who is going to help take some of the big-minute pressure off of Darnell Nurse, and that’s going to be key in this trade. Nurse has appeared in over his head at many times this season and it’s clear the Oilers were looking to alleviate those pressures.
There are some that have raised concerns about removing Barrie from the Oilers’ blueline, but let’s be honest here: the powerplay has never run through him. As effective as he has been at moving the puck, the powerplay runs through Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. According to hockeyviz.com, Barie was two percent better than league average on the powerplay this season while Bouchard has been one percent better. The difference is negligible, and Bouchard shouldn’t have an issue slinging the puck around.
For the Oilers now, they still will have roughly $2-million in cap space to work with and I can’t imagine the team being done ahead of the deadline.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

Check out these posts...