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Evaluating Mattias Ekholm and the acquisition cost for the Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers recently acquired Mattias Ekholm due to defensive needs. Though it came at a substantial cost, the move solidifies Edmonton’s defence to a more shutdown style better suited for the more challenging and physical playoffs.

Although the emergence of the Philip Broberg-Evan Bouchard pairing mitigated the requirement for the Oilers to pursue a shutdown defenceman for a time, the acquisition of Ekholm is arguably Holland’s first win now since acquiring Andreas Athanasiou during the 2019–2020 season. Snagging Ekhom firmly solidifies Edmonton’s backend for a playoff push, providing depth against injuries and the potential faltering of the Oilers’ defensive cycle. As mentioned, due to the NHL’s evolution to defensive mitigation structuring in the playoffs, having a 215 lbs and 6’4″ defenceman could drastically help break down the opposing team’s cycles with his physicality and adeptness with his stick.

Comparing Ekholm and Barrie’s 2022–23 season 5v5 play

GP=Games Played, G=Goals, A=Assists, P=Points, H=Hits, TK=Takeaways, BS=Blocked Shots, +/-=Plus Minus, XGF=Expected Goals For, XGA= Expected Goals Against, XGF%=Expected Goals Percentage, CF%=Corsi Percentage, HDCF%=High Danger Chances For Percentage, PDO=The sum of teams shooting percentage and goalie save percentage

Ekholm has the positional versatility to fit seamlessly within Edmonton’s defensive roster. Compared to other shutdown defencemen with Edmoton’s defensive corps, Ekholm retains a more proven track record, is a better skater, and is a more offensively gifted defenceman than Vincent Desharnais or Brett Kulak. Ekholm also possesses over 75 games of playoff experience, including a Stanley Cup run with the Nashville Predators in 2016–17.

By comparison, though Ekholm has an NHL-level shot, scoring on 5.3% for his career and 5.03% on the season, he is not as adept with the puck as Tyson Barrie; Barrie has been able to convert 3.7% more of his chances on the season and 1.4% above Ekholm’s career average.

Ekholm produces strong statistically compared to Edmonton’s defense corps, with the subtraction of Barrie. Without Barrie in Edmonton’s lineup, Ekholm ranks second in goals, fourth in assists, and third in points, bringing over the best shooting percentage among all active Oiler defencemen.

Ekholm simultaneously brings strong defensive intangibles and qualities, including defensive-mindedness and puck sense, takeaways, hits, and blocked shots. Compared to the current Oilers roster, Ekholm’s performance would place him fifth in hits, fourth in blocked shots, and fifth in takeaways. Acquiring the physicality and defensive smarts Ekholm provides would prove great foresight for playoffs. As mentioned in previous articles, Edmonton’s lack of ability to break up the Colorado Avalanche’s cycle via physicality proved too much to overcome.

The underlying metrics justify Ekholm’s acquisition cost. Even on a lackluster, lottery-bound Nashville team, Ekholm provides intangibles that would prove very valuable in Edmonton’s top four. Unlike Barrie, Ekholm, for his career and seasonal play, has and continues to possess above-league averages in various categories, including controlling puck possession (CF%), shot quality (XGF%), high-danger opportunity control (HDCF%), and goals occurring on the ice at even strength (+/-). Though Barrie is having an exceptional season by personal career stands, posting above-league norm in specific metrics, Ekholm has generated more expected goals while mitigating expected goals against at near-even rates.

Ekholm’s 5v5 line impact with a minimum of 50 minutes TOI together

Defensive PairingTOICF%SF%SCF%GF%XGF%HDCF%
Mattias Ekholm-Alexandre Carrier42551.9%50.8%54.2%48.3%55.9%54.1%
Mattias Ekholm-Dante Fabbro15049.5%54.4%50.4%62.5%53.7%57.4%
Mattias Ekholm-Jeremy Lauzon13749.2%43.6%45.1%11.11%43.3%36.4%
Roman Josi-Mattias Ekholm11660.7%55.6%59.8%37.5%59.8%61.4%
Ryan McDonagh-Mattias Ekholm10244.7%45.1%42.9%55.6%44.9%43.8%
TOI=Time on Ice, CF%=Corsi Percentage, SF%=Shots For Percentage, SCF%=Scoring Chances For Percentage, GF%=Goals For Percentage, XGF%=Expected Goals Percentage, HDCF%=High Danger Chances For Percentage

Ekholm has been a minute muncher during his Nashville tenure. As shown in the above table, Ekholm has been paired with five combinations of defencemen above the standard 50-minute benchmark. Ekholm’s play showcases his reliability as a defensive defenceman among the various line blends.

As arguments for analytics help justify, puck possession is a quality that teams should strive to obtain as it perpetuates additional playmaking, chances for, and greater shot control—providing reasoning for why it should be on the Oiler’s wishlist, which Ekholm hopefully provides.

Currently, the Oilers are slightly above-league average at even strength as a team, though the loss of Barrie may result in slight levels of regression for Edmonton as a team. However, compared to Barrie, Ekholm has produced better puck possession ability at even strength, indicating the Oilers may only get better in this category. Due to playing on a likely lottery-bound team, Ekholm only obtains league-average levels with two defensive partners. Still, the metrics are only slightly under the 50% benchmark between the two other pairings and one that is exceptionally subpar league norm.

Edmonton currently only has two defencemen, Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg, who achieve the 50% benchmark, indicating positive puck possession, whereas the rest are generally 3-8% below the league average. Therefore, hypothetically slotting into Edmonton’s lineup, Ekholm likely slots in alongside Darnell Nurse to provide a more stable option than Cody Ceci. This would bump Ceci to the second pairing with either Brett Kulak or Bouchard, or making for a robust 11-7 lineup with length.

Reviewing the rest of the metrics, Ekholm’s other underlying categories imply his play this season proves he can win the shot battle (SF%), individually and as a defensive pairing, posting above 50% with three of his five former defensive partners. Additionally, Ekholm produces high danger chance containment rates at 5v5 (HDCF%)—with three of five former defensive partners—especially when paired with offensively minded defenceman such as Roman Josi or Dante Fabbro, where Ekholm’s defensive sense mitigates and balances his defensive partner’s potential lacking defensive control. Furthermore, when paired with the same three players, Ekholm can limit and control shot-quality chances that lead to possible expected goals (XGF%).

There are flaws Ekholm exhibits that are highlighted in specific pairings. When paired with Ryan McDonagh or Jeremy Lauzon, both fail to win the scoring chance battle, high-danger chance control, and puck possession, indicating they are giving up too many chances at 5v5. Each result means Ekholm can be out-chanced when paired with a slower, more defensive-minded defenceman.

Assessing the trade value for Ekholm

It is conclusive throughout his career and this season that Ekholm lengthens the lineup with additional depth and toughness, which are required intangible qualities for a lengthy playoff run. Reviewing the acquisition cost for Ekholm, it may take a lot of work to stomach the loss of Barrie, recent first-round pick Reid Schafer, a 2023 first-rounder, and a 2024 fourth-rounder.

Acquiring such a defensive stalwart on a reasonable contract with term provides Edmonton stability on the backend, with only Bouchard’s contract expiring at the end of this year. A cost far more manageable to stomach than giving up a first-round pick for a pure rental like Vladislav Gavrikov, who has continued to indicate that he will not resign in Canada.

Though the loss of Barrie resulted from being a money-in-money-out deal, it also caused the loss of Jesse Puljujarvi, who was an additional cap casualty. Although the loss of draft picks may sting in the future, it was a win-now move as the assets to be selected would only be impactful three to five years down the road, plus carrying the risk of uncertainty of the player making the NHL. The same holds true for Reid Schaefer, who has torn up the WHL this season; this trade’s loss or win depends on his development within Nashville’s organization.

Barrie is another difficult loss for Edmonton to stomach. He was the quarterback of the Oilers’ NHL best power play, one of their more consistent defenders, and a very impactful member within the core and the community. However, as the statistics imply, Ekholm is a defenceman oozing with defensive upside, provides positional versatility playing with skill on either the right or left-handed side, and brings toughness, skill, and grit to Edmonton’s defensive corps.

All stats courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com, MoneyPuck.com, and naturalstattrick.com

Darnell Holt

Hello, my name is Darnell Holt. I am currently an employee in the finance sector, focusing on agriculture. My background includes holding two degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, a Master of Science in Agriculture Economics and a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Business. However, I am a small-town Alberta boy with a love for analytics and a massive fandom for anything sports, especially for my home province Edmonton Oilers.

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