The New York Islanders have lost a few pieces from their roster this offseason and will need to find a way to fill holes in their lineup, in order to remain a contender.
One of those losses came in the form of trading Nick Leddy to the Detroit Red Wings, rather than potentially losing him in the Expansion Draft. Leddy had a top-four role with the Islanders and without him, the team has a large hole on the left side of their defense group.
As a result, the Islanders should certainly be checking in around the league, regarding the availability of other top defenders. One defenseman that sticks out is Mattias Ekholm, whose name was heavily discussed in trade rumours around the trade deadline.
It’s important to note though that while Ekholm was reportedly being shopped at the deadline, that doesn't necessarily mean he’s still available now. Especially with the Predators having recently traded Ryan Ellis, perhaps the team will attempt to sign Ekholm to an extension instead. If he could still be pried out of Nashville, however, the Islanders should make an attempt to do so.
Ekholm is undoubtedly one of the most reliable defenders in the league in his own zone. He averaged nearly 23 minutes per game this season, was used heavily on the penalty kill and would fit great in New York’s defensive structure. In addition to how good he is defensively, Ekholm is very capable offensively and spent some time on Nashville’s power play as well. This past season, he had six goals and 23 points in 48 games and can typically be counted on for around 35-40 points per 82 games.
Ekholm’s cheap contract is a huge selling point too, with his cap hit coming in at just $3.75 million. Even without any salary retention, it’s a contract that the Islanders could find a way to fit on their payroll and Ekholm also doesn’t have a no-trade clause, making a deal easier to accomplish.
Then the fact that Ekholm is on an expiring contract is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it means the team isn't tied to a contract for multiple years, especially given that Ekholm is 31 years old and that New York continues to have a difficult salary cap situation. That said, it also means the team could be giving up multiple assets for just a single season with the player, which also isn’t ideal.
Speaking of those assets, acquiring Ekholm wouldn’t come cheap either. At the deadline, it was reported that Predators general manager David Poile would be looking for a package involving picks and prospects in exchange for the defender. Perhaps a package like a first-round pick, Simon Holmstrom and another high draft pick would be enough to acquire him. It would be a lot to pay and does contradict my previous stance that the team should try to avoid trading more top picks and prospects but again, the Islanders are in win-now mode and need to add a top-four, left-handed defenseman. Ekholm could be a massive addition to the team’s second-pairing and would seemingly be a perfect fit with the team’s defense group.
Again, we don’t know if Ekholm is even still available but given that he was previously on the trading block and has a single year left on his deal, the Predators would likely still entertain the idea of moving him for future assets. If that’s the case, the Islanders should see what it would take to bring him to New York.
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Would you be in favour of the Islanders attempting to trade future assets for Mattias Ekholm?