The Nashville Predators are in a very interesting spot. The team is clearly on a certain trajectory where a rebuild could be on the horizon, not only due to the declining play of the team the past couple of years, but also given the fact they traded veterans Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis this offseason.
Mattias Ekholm, who is entering the final year of his current contract (with a salary cap hit of just $3.75 million), figured to be a popular name in trade speculation this season if things on the ice did not pan out for the Predators.
You can probably put that speculation on hold after Wednesday’s news that the team has reportedly signed the veteran defenseman to a four-year, $25 million contract extension, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. That contract will keep him in Nashville through the end of the 2025-26 season as he continues to lead their defense along with Roman Josi.
Ekholm, 31, has been an outstanding two player in Nashville for the past eight years making big contributions offensively and defensively. He has had a strong defensive impact and also been a steady 35-40 point player offensively. His last contract was a steal against the cap and one of the most team-friendly deals in the league among defenders. But it is still interesting to see Nashville make this sort of commitment right now.
There should be real concern about how good this team is actually going to be in the foreseeable future. It was going absolutely nowhere last season until Juuse Saros turned into superman around the halfway point of the season and carried it to a playoff spot. It is a team that has been trending in the wrong direction for a couple of years now, and just this offseason traded two long-time standouts in Ellis and Avridsson for future assets (Cody Glass, Philippe Myers, and draft picks).
It does further point to the idea that the Predators might be trying some sort of “competitive rebuild” rather than a full scale rebuild, where they try to keep an eye on the future while also not giving up on the present. That is a tricky thing to successfully pull off, and usually just results in a longer window of sustained mediocrity. We will see what direction Nashville takes this in.
Now that Ekholm is signed all eyes are going to turn to their other significant pending free agent, star forward Filip Forsberg.
Forsberg has been Nashville’s top offensive player for the past seven years and just turned 27 a couple of months ago. Does he become a trade chip later this season if things do not go as planned? Or is there still room in the plans to keep him long-term?