It’s not usually you hear an NHL participant screaming in ache. That mentality of by no means, ever exhibiting any type of weak point is so deeply embedded in every participant’s DNA that they will endure the type of bodily agony that will crumple most individuals. So when Aaron Ekblad was slapping his palm towards the ice and bellowing after his grisly fall in a sport Sunday evening, you may inform that it was unhealthy. Actually unhealthy.
The excellent news for the Florida Panthers, if there’s any, is that Ekblad in the end flew residence with the crew from Dallas after the Panthers’ 4-1 win over the Stars and can be additional evaluated Monday. However no one seems to be kidding themselves right here, least of all of the Panthers themselves. “We predict he’s going to be out for an intensive time,” mentioned Panthers coach Joel Quenneville.
That’s, merely put, a catastrophe. After years of teasing their followers and wildly underachieving, the Panthers have seemed very a lot for actual this season. A part of the rationale for that has been the play of Ekblad, who sees a mean of 25 minutes an evening and was on tempo to publish essentially the most spectacular offensive season of his profession. After battling a number of concussions, Ekblad seemed this season to be on the cusp of coming into the higher echelon of defensemen within the NHL, maybe even garnering some critical assist for a Norris Trophy.
And whereas nothing is agency but, it’s actually laborious to observe his awkward fall alongside the boards Sunday evening and never assume the worst. Though he waved to the group as he was being taken off the ice on a stretcher, he was nonetheless being taken off the ice on a stretcher. Usually talking, that’s a fairly adverse growth. “He’s most likely going to be out for some time,” mentioned Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau. “It’s not cool. You hear him scream. It should have harm so (badly). I didn’t actually see it. I actually didn’t need to see it.”
If it seems that Ekblad can not return this season, it’s going to make for a really attention-grabbing two weeks for Panthers GM Invoice Zito. However we should first go on the premise that there isn’t a method Zito goes to have the ability to absolutely change Ekblad from outdoors, regardless of what he does between now and the commerce deadline. A right-shot defenseman who performs large minutes and makes impactful contributions in all areas of the ice is a commodity that’s briefly provide. Anybody who has these gamers is intent on preserving them.
One factor working in Zito’s favour is the Panthers’ advantageous cap place, one which can be enhanced if Ekblad’s $7.5 million cap his is parked on the long-term harm record. The most definitely candidate for the Panthers to pursue can be Mattias Ekholm of the Nashville Predators, who has a yr left on his contract on a ridiculously cap-friendly $3.75-million hit. However actually, is Ekholm even available on the market anymore? With back-to-back wins over the Chicago Blackhawks on the weekend, the Predators have gained 5 in a row and are in a tie with the Blackhawks for fourth place within the Central Division. As soon as given up for lifeless, and apparently within the promoting mode, the Predators at the moment are again within the race. It doesn’t appear attainable that Predators GM David Poile would be capable to promote his fan base on dealing Ekholm with the Predators very a lot within the playoff image. Not when Ekholm has that type of wage with a yr of time period remaining.
In order that leaves the likes of Brandon Montour of the Buffalo Sabres or David Savard of the Columbus Blue Jackets, each of whom are short-term leases, neither of who may even come near filling the large chasm created by Ekblad’s harm. Maybe Josh Manson of Anaheim is perhaps in play and that has intriguing prospects. He nonetheless has a yr remaining on his contract with a $4.1-million cap hit. He additionally has a restricted no-trade clause that features a 12-team no-trade record. However there most likely aren’t too many NHL gamers who would balk on the alternative to play in south Florida.
The underside line is the Florida Panthers are much less of a crew with out this season’s model of Aaron Ekblad, no matter who replaces him. Quenneville mentioned after Sunday evening’s sport that successful within the playoffs is “an acquired style,” and it’s one thing the Panthers nonetheless should do. With out Ekblad, it will be all of the tougher. “Our group has achieved lots this yr,” Quenneville mentioned. “Time goes to reply all that stuff, however I nonetheless assume the group is reaching quite a lot of good issues this yr, quite a lot of optimistic accomplishments within the first half. You get some pleasure in sure methods, however proper now shouldn’t be a day to get excited.”