In true college student fashion, the Nashville Predators are getting their important business done at the last minute.
The Predators made one final important signing before puck-drop on their 2021-22 season Wednesday, agreeing to terms with defenceman Mattias Ekholm on a four-year contract extension worth an average annual value of $6.25 million.
The deal, which will keep Ekholm in Nashville through the 2025-26 season, will kick in at the start of the 2022-23 campaign, as Ekholm has one year remaining on his current contract at $3.75 million.
So, it seems as if the Predators are not heading for a rebuild.
After a disappointing 2021 season, rumours began to circulate near the trade deadline that the Predators would be holding a fire sale on all their veteran pieces, hoping to recoup a hefty pile of draft assets that they would, in time, parlay into future success. Mattias Ekholm was thought to be the most coveted item at the auction if ultimately placed on the block, with his departure more or less signaling David Poile's preference to reboot his team's core.
That, obviously, is no longer the case.
In re-signing Ekholm, the Predators have their sights set on contention once more. And Ekholm certainly helps their cause. The 31-year-old is a bonafide top-pair defender, one who boasts a terrific two-way game that is so coveted in the modern NHL, headlined by his ability to produce offense at even strength.
Ekholm does just about everything a team can ask for from their number one blueliner. He logs over 22 minutes per night against the best his opponents have to offer, scores at the same clip year in and year out, is a positive possession driver and even takes a shockingly low number of penalties when accounting for the rigors of his role.
Will Ekholm still provide the same value for the remainder of his new contract? That remains to be seen. Giving a defender upwards of $6 million from ages 31-35 is a risky endeavor. But the Predators believe in Ekholm, and he's given them no reason to doubt him during his 10 years with the club.
If the Predators are indeed still vying for a Stanley Cup, and today's signing certainly suggests that they are, locking in one of the league's best blueliners is as good a step as any.