Ekholm Ecstatic Over Extension
It’s no secret that the Nashville Predators were going into this season with several key pieces due for big paydays in the summer. On Monday, GM David Poile took care of one of those as Mattias Ekholm was signed a 6-yr $22.5M contract extension. The 6’4 215lb Swede entered this year on the back end of a two-year deal that was paying him just over $1M, so a hefty raise was in order for the 25-yr old hitting his prime.
Ekholm was recently labeled the ‘best defensive defenseman in the NHL’ by analytical guru Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) of Sportsnet. To say the analytics crowd swoons over “Ek” is an understatement. He’s drawn comparisons to Niklas Hjalmarsson in Chicago as an undervalued player that doesn’t always put up points, but is a statistical darling at preventing shots in his own zone. The closest comparison to his contract on the blue line is that of Roman Josi. Two years ago at 23, Josi signed a 7yr, $28M contract which is turning out to be one of the great value deals in the NHL. The fact the contracts are so similar tells you all you need to know about how the team feels about keeping Ekholm around. So what’s left to do on the blue line?
As the top 6 dmen stand now, Seth Jones remains the only one not signed for 2016. He’s playing out the final year of his modest, entry-level deal that pays him $925k. I’ve said all summer that this is the season Jones has to make the transition from a young guy with ‘potential’, to a consistent top 4 guy and even a top 2 dman. If he does that, he’s going to be paid handsomely, probably in the vicinity of 6-7 years, at $5-6M per season. At worst, he’ll be signed to a bridge deal, likely to pay him around $3-4M/yr for 2 years to further prove himself.
But wait… everybody knows the Preds aren’t a team that’s going to spend to the cap limit, so how will they be able to afford all of this star-power on defense? Going into next season, even without the eminent Jones contract signing, Nashville has $20M locked up between Weber, Josi, Ekholm, Ellis and Jackman. Let’s presume Jones gets a shorter term deal at $4M. That means they will have a $24M cap hit for their top 6 dmen. They have 7 forwards signed for next season at just over $24M against the cap. If you add the $7M Rinne is making, that positions them around $55M for next season with a large contract still due to Filip Forsberg. Keep in mind that although the salary cap will increase from the $71.4M in place this year, Nashville’s cap hit this season is under $60M. So, if everybody stays, the Preds will approach about $70M with RFA’s and other off-season moves. I personally don’t see that happening, which tells me a potential shake-up will happen with the roster next summer.
I will dig deeper into that conundrum at a more appropriate time. For the time being, let’s enjoy locking up another key piece to what is the best blue line in the NHL.