Grading the Ekholm/Barrie trade: A little too old fashioned
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With the NHL’s March 3 trade deadline just three days away, the Edmonton Oilers have finally made a move to help shore up the team’s blueline. Except they did so by subtracting a linchpin of the best power play in hockey. What a strange tradeoff.
Mattias Ekholm – formerly of the Nashville Predators – is now an Oiler. And the power play specialist, defenseman Tyson Barrie, moves from Edmonton to Music City.
Picks and a prospect are also part of the deal. But let’s not kid ourselves. This trade boils down to Ekholm. He’s the key piece for Edmonton. And the Oilers are the only team in this deal worthy of making the 2022-23 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Time to hand out some trade grades.
D Mattias Ekholm, 32 – $6M cap hit (Predators retain 4% of $6.25M cap hit) through 2025-26
2024 sixth-round pick
First off, the only thing about this trade that stands out is that the Oilers needed a top-four defenseman that can do just that: defend. Ekholm fits that mold – and then some. The new Oilers blueliner has decent puck skills and makes responsible decisions.
I’ve always admired how Ekholm defends. At 6-foot-4, he can cover a lot of ground with his reach. The native of Borlange, Sweden has a better shot than people realize and plays with poise.
Ekholm may not have received much notoriety outside of Nashville – sharing a team with superstar defender Roman Josi will do that – but he was a key piece of the Predators for nearly a decade. And I think his plus-minus rating speaks for itself. In nearly 10 full seasons of action with Nashville, Ekholm only had two years when he finished negative. And even then, in those two seasons, his rating was minus-1 and minus-8.
But Ekholm is 32 years old. And he’s not the fleetest of foot. Are those concerns for Edmonton? Probably not as much as it would’ve been for some other clubs. But Ekholm’s $6 million cap hit is no joke for the Oilers – and it runs for three more seasons after the current campaign ends. He’ll be 36 years old when the contract expires.
That combination of a high cap hit and Ekholm’s age should be a cause for concern. But I do appreciate his consistency. Ekholm has five goals and 13 assists in 57 games this year, and most of those points have come at even strength. But Ekholm has also occasionally factored on Nashville’s power play – something that is unlikely to happen in Edmonton.
Several things surprised me. First, Tyson Barrie had 28 power play points in 61 games for Edmonton. 43 total, including 10 goals. He’s in the midst of a career year offensively, excluding his output in the shortened 2020-21 season. And while no one is going to mistake him for a shutdown defenseman, I would argue Barrie was extremely valuable to the Oilers.
I understand that GM Ken Holland needed to move out dollars to bring in Ekholm, but Barrie? The Oilers better hope 23-year old blueliner Evan Bouchard is ready to take over – at all strengths. And maybe he is.
But Barrie was a proven commodity. And one that would have played less if the Oilers had simply obtained Ekholm. Edmonton head coach Jay Woodcroft could have given Barrie sheltered minutes and essentially made him a power play specialist.
And that’s basically my point. I would have liked this deal a lot more if Edmonton had managed to keep Barrie. Now I think they need to add yet another NHL defenseman, if only to shore up their depth. Which to me is now lacking.
I’m fine with Holland moving out a first-round pick. It was going to be late in the Draft anyway. And the Oilers have a pressing need to improve while Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are still young. The Stanley Cup is the goal, not building for the future.
In that regard, I do applaud Holland for doing what was necessary to get Ekholm. He should be a good fit this year and, if the Oilers are lucky, for the remainder of his contract. Edmonton got the player they were targeting, and one that I like.
But I haven’t even mentioned Reid Schaefer. He was Edmonton’s first-round pick in 2022. He won gold with Team Canada at the 2023 World Junior Championship. Schaefer has 23 goals in 44 games this year with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds – and he plays with some bite. On top of that, Schaefer is from Edmonton. What a buzzkill for him to be drafted by his hometown team, only to be traded within a calendar year.
Unfortunately that’s the business. It shouldn’t matter where Schaefer is from. But it doesn’t change the fact that it had to be tough for Edmonton to trade the young prospect. Nashville must have really wanted Schaefer.
In all, I think Edmonton did a good job of targeting a player they’ve long been in need of. Ekholm makes the Oilers better defensively. But the loss of Barrie, along with Schaefer and a first-round draft pick, feels like an overpay. And even with the addition of Ekholm, I still think Edmonton is thin on defense.
D Tyson Barrie, 31, $4.5M cap hit through 2023-24
F Reid Schaefer, 19, $950k cap hit through 2024-24
2023 1st round pick
2024 4th round pick
Given Nashville’s continued mediocrity during the 2022-23 NHL season, selling made sense.
I’m not surprised that the Predators moved Ekholm. He was a durable workhorse for Nashville, and with term left on this contract, the cost-certainty must have been appealing to interested teams. Ekholm’s cap hit is probably a little high for a player entering his mid-30s, but he was one of the better options available on the market.
Taking Barrie back in return makes sense for the Preds. He only has one year left on his deal past this season, and by including him in the trade, he made the dollars work for Edmonton.
I like that soon-to-be-retired GM David Poile was able to obtain a quality prospect in addition to a first-round pick. Schaefer should factor in the Predators lineup sooner rather than later. And swapping out a fourth-round pick for a sixth-rounder is a nice bonus.
But what I don’t understand is why the Predators thing to retain just $250,000 of Ekholm’s contract. Why use one of the three allotted retained salary spaces for such a tiny sum? And for three years after the current season? Was there not another NHL team willing to help broker the deal?
I’d ask the same question of Holland. If the Preds had retained more money, or another team got involved, maybe Barrie and Ekholm are both Oilers.
This deal feels decidedly old school. And in today’s NHL, that’s not a good thing. Other teams are finding ways to shift massive amounts of money around. Cap hits are being reduced by third parties. Teams are retaining money like crazy in order to maximize the return on assets.
If Nashville explored all of those options and came up empty, so be it. But with all the creativity taking place with other NHL front offices, this trade feels like a relic.
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