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Pierre LeBrun reporting Mattias Ekholm may be available and the Leafs have “looked at him”

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
For anyone who wanted to believe the Leafs weren’t done hunting big game, Pierre LeBrun has given you the content you are looking for, as he has indeed identified a player the Leafs have “looked at” in Mattias Ekholm:
On Ekholm from LeBrun’s article in The Athletic:
The asking price would be high — perhaps as much as two first-round picks. Not sure there’s a team out there willing to pay that. But at the very least, the Preds are talking to teams about him.
I think the Maple Leafs, for example, have looked at him, but I don’t easily see how Toronto can meet the asking price, and there’s the issue of his contract.
LeBrun does start with the fact that the Predators are still very much in the soul searching phase of this, unsure whether they will continue pushing onward for a playoff spot or decide to accept their fate and begin selling where they can.
With three more seasons under contract after this one, and turning 33 in May, it’s not entirely certain whether Ekholm’s $6.25M AAV cap hit should be looked at as either a blessing or a curse. His deal is structured without bonuses, and he is paid $6.5M in each of the three remaining years.
As expensive as that contract is, it wouldn’t be impossible for the Leafs to make it work either this year or in the future. It might require the Leafs to make a tough decision or two about their blueline beyond this season, but that’s reasonable and as for this year, a couple of Marlies demotions and the inclusion of Alex Kerfoot in the return to Nashville is essentially enough to make the money work. It’s just a matter of if Mattias Ekholm is truly worth it for the Leafs.
Let’s start with the mandatory RAPM Chart to help make the case:
So that’s probably a good way to start.
SeasonGPTOI/GPCF/60CA/60CF%GF%xGF/60xGA/60xG%HDCF%PDOP/60Hits/60BS/60
201820198018.8060.2351.2654.0357.022.572.2553.3352.531.011.082.353.15
201920206818.1157.7957.2150.2547.862.542.5250.2348.180.991.122.103.51
202020214717.4456.5254.3250.9966.152.352.4249.2749.461.051.171.392.34
202120227617.2752.2054.2649.0356.522.342.3749.6750.471.030.912.972.79
202220235416.6560.5254.1152.7945.902.922.3855.0554.770.990.733.343.20
At 5v5, Ekholm is having another strong year, and the past five years seem to be pretty consistent, something you definitely look for in an older player with term.
As far as Ekholm goes there are a lot of parallels between what he does and what TJ Brodie has done for the Leafs, and with just one more season of TJ Brodie under contract, having a potential replacement lined up wouldn’t hurt the Leafs.
The thing with Ekholm is that he’s going to be very expensive to acquire and arguably he doesn’t match a specific need for the Leafs. With their current blueline, and having just brought in two forwards who will assist in their overall team defense, the Leafs went into last night with 6th best shots against per game and goals against per game, two pretty clear indicators that things are going well on the defensive side of the puck. Where the Leafs do have lower numbers are in the gritensity area of their time away from the puck, the Leafs are 21st in hits per game and blocked shots per game. While Ekholm might be a bit of help in the area of the blocked shots, he’s not a punishing defenseman, despite being 6’4. The case is there that the style he plays would be a better fit and benefit the Leafs more, but it’s also clear that he’s lacking on of the skills that people appreciated about Jake Muzzin that hasn’t been replaced.
Mattias Ekholm would most certainly be an upgrade, but not necessarily one that addresses a pressing need. In the short and medium term, there is certainty that he can make the Leafs better, but his combination of contract and age creates a bit of a buyer beware situation.
I don’t think we’ll see Leafs fans fawning over Ekholm as a target in the next 10 days, but nevertheless, he’s an interesting player to keep an eye on.
Data from Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey

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