Nashville Predators: Still No Mattias Ekholm Extension as Season Nears

Mar 25, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) shoots the puck during the third period against the Detroit Red Wings at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 25, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) shoots the puck during the third period against the Detroit Red Wings at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s been a busy offseason for the Nashville Predators, but Mattias Ekholm remains a looming free agent next offseason that needs to get re-signed sooner rather than later.

The puck drops on the 2021-22 NHL regular season in less than two months, and the Predators have been busy this offseason re-signing players, while also moving core players to other teams.

Another key veteran to this suddenly young Nashville Predators roster is Ekholm, who is coming off of another solid season and is entering the final year of his six-year contract that was signed just before the season of the incredible run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017.

Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile has done a fairly decent job this offseason at re-signing key players that will be vital to keeping this rebuild from getting too ugly. He finally got Juuse Saros a new contract that looks rather team-friendly, and most recently signed Eeli Tovlanen to a three-year contract that also looks like a bargain.

A good general manager looks deep into the future to see what other contracts are about to expire, and Poile doesn’t have to look that far to see that Ekholm is getting close to becoming an unrestricted free agent in the offseason of 2022.

We all know that Poile is one of the smartest general managers out there, despite some of his recent blunders. I mean, we all make mistakes, right? But be that as it may, Poile knows that Ekholm is next on the docket as he told 102.5 The Game that just a few weeks ago.

A big pay raise is coming for Ekholm, either here or elsewhere

This is going to be a tricky contract negotiation for Poile. Ekholm has always been undervalued around the league, but in recent years his stock has definitely risen and people are starting to realize just how valuable he is to the Predators, and how valuable he can be to a new team.

More from Predlines

Ekholm plays the game the right way as a defenseman. He’s rugged, physical, smart and can chip in with offense as well. He’s an all-around solid second-pairing defenseman, at worst. And not to be overlooked, he’s an outstanding locker room presence for a young team like the Predators.

There was ton of speculation swirling around Ekholm possibly being dealt ahead of the trade deadline before the Predators went on their improbable run to the playoffs. They ended up keeping Ekholm and not being dramatic seller at the deadline, and in return they forged ahead and captured a playoff spot.

The Predators also made it very apparent that they valued Ekholm by protecting him in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, which didn’t come as a big surprise. However, Poile must have been thinking when putting together his protection list that something not that far away is his task of  negotiating a new contract for Ekholm.

Ekholm’s AAV (annual average value) has been at a modest $3.75M since the 2016-17 season. A downright bargain if you ask me. He’s given you everything for price tag, and then some. He’s one of the most reliable players that the Predators have had, even through the rough times.

Barring some kind of unforeseen horrendous season for Ekholm individually, I don’t see his value going down at all. Perhaps Poile doesn’t even let it get to next offseason, but that obviously is no guarantee.

Ekholm’s final season in Nashville Predators Gold?

Poile has to figure out a way to retain Ekholm past this season, but it’s hard to say at this juncture just what Ekholm is looking for. I’m sure without a doubt he doesn’t want to play for a basement dweller, but he also strikes me as a player who is loyal to the Nashville Predators.

Ekholm is now 31-years-old, and likely is entering that time in his career path where he begins to decline a bit. That makes this contract negotiation even trickier, and also obviously affects his value for the long-term.

When coming up with a new contract for Ekholm, the length of the deal will be paramount. Long-term deals have not been Poile’s best friend after all.

The Predators also have a promising group of defensemen in their prospect pool that can’t be overlooked in this. Is it possible that Poile will have to unfortunately let Ekholm walk as the price tag just might be too steep for what will be a 32-year-old player by next offseason? It definitely is.

This could very well be the last season for Ekholm with the Nashville Predators. It wouldn’t shock me at all if this does indeed end up being a painful rebuild season, and the front office further tears down this core and goes full-on rebuild in the 2022 offseason.

However, if the Predators somehow find a way to show that they’re going back in the right direction thanks to young talent showing off their skills and keeping this team competitive for a playoff spot once again, then Poile might be more inclined to retain Ekholm and pay him what he’s worth on the open market.

All of this of course hinges on when the negotiations actually take place. A lot can change between now and next summer.

As of now, I’m sure Ekholm is looking for longevity wherever he goes next. It’s an important juncture in his NHL career deciding on whether to stay in Nashville, or pursue a Stanley Cup somewhere else.

There’s going to be several teams very interested in Ekholm if he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. He won’t be on the market long, and there are even really desperate teams who would overpay for him. I’m not so sure Poile will be willing to overpay for him, however.

Must Read. Are the Predators Really Destined to be a Lottery Team?. light

One thing is very clear for me; if Ekholm is lost in free agency next offseason it will be way more difficult to stomach than it was trading away Ryan Ellis or Viktor Arvidsson.

Much like we had a feeling we were entering the final season with Pekka Rinne on the Predators, there’s that unfortunate thought that the same can be said now for Ekholm. This is hopefully a case of me just being paranoid.

Ekholm remains a vital part of this defensive-minded team, but he’s going to deserve a pay raise even at age 32, and I just don’t know if Poile will be in a position to outbid for him over other teams if this doesn’t get done before next offseason.