When the rumors broke that the Flyers were in on Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekhlom, it originally came as a bit of a head scratching concept. Given the soon-to-be-31-year-old still a year remaining on his contract, he wouldn’t be a rental player, thus he would have to be protected at the expansion draft. But with three defenseman already seemingly locked up, being Ivan Provorov, Phil Myers and Travis Sanheim, where would Ekholm fit in? Even though Fletcher used the expansion draft as an excuse for not making any moves during the 2020 offseason, what if the Ekholm acquisition could be a big brain move for Chuck to make a serious mark in the salary cap department?
Given the salary cap is so tight, any trade will have to be a “hockey trade” an “apples for apples” deal if you will. Meaning that the salary coming in will have to be close to the salary going out to make the numbers work. Both the Flyers and Predators will have a bit of wiggle room each way, but the trade will still have to be relatively close financially. Pierre LeBrun suggested Shayne Gostisbehere being the main piece going back, and while at face value that seems like a weird return, it would the the first huge domino to fall.
The Predators are more or less at a point where they have to waive the white flag. A lot of aging players that simply have zero chemistry on the ice anymore. Hence why Ekhlom’s name is available. They may not look to strip the team down to the bare walls just yet, so maybe they are looking for a Shayne Gostisbehere-esque player to base a trade off. Ghost, who will turn 28 at the end of April, has had his fair share of struggles in Philadelphia over the past few seasons. From slumping play to multiple injuries, the 2021 season has been the first season by Ghost’s own admission he has felt comfortable in many years.
If the deal is Shayne Gostisbehere and a first round pick and/or a prospect for Ekholm, the Flyers immediately get some future cap savings. Ghost still has two years left on his current contract at $4.5 AAV while Ekhlom only has one year left at $3.75. Not only do the Flyers pick up the likely better player, they get a $750,000 cap savings next season and are off the hook entirely in 2022-23. That’s an extra $4.5 million available the same summer they need to re-sign Sean Couturier. But they could also ride this crazy train one step further.
“But Daniel,” I hear you yell at the screen, “what about the expansion draft?” Well that’s the even wilder part. They simply protect Mattias Ekholm. Well, not quite, but they walk away from the draft with Ekhlom and not Sanheim.
Travis Sanheim, who is an restricted free agent at the end of the season, has to still be the one they technically protect, but they may be able to leverage him in a trade with Seattle to pick one of the high-paid veterans on the team. The target heading onto Seattle from the Flyers perspective should still be JVR, they could use Sanheim to leverage out a deal where Seattle would select one of James Van Riemsdyk or Jake Voracek.
“Why would Seattle not just take the exposed Ekhlom?”
Well, they could. But Sanheim is only 24, soon to be 25, and provides a much brighter future than the 31-year-old Ekhlom would.
So a deal could look like the Flyers trading Travis Sanheim’s rights to Seattle in exchange for them selecting Jake Voracek. Voracek has three years left on his current contract that pays him $8.25 million per season and that contract will be a major hinderance through many upcoming negotiations. Getting him off the books will put a major ease on the salary cap for years to come.
Losing Sanheim may not seem ideal, but it isn’t the end of the world. The organization still has Yegor Zamula and Cam York waiting in the wings, who may be NHL ready as early as next season, as well as Wyatte Wylie and Linus Hogberg, who have shown early potential for the Phantoms this season. Locking up Sanheim long term not only makes everything harder financially, but it takes away a roster spot from a potentially better player.
So to put everything into perspective, the Flyers deal Shayne Gostisbehere and a first round pick (plus) for Mattias Ekholm. They then leave Ekholm exposed at the draft, but trade Sanheim in exchange for Seattle picking Jake Voracek. Then Ekholm plays for the Flyers next season and is free to go after that.
That sounds even better from a monetary perspective. They trade Ghost and his $4.5 million hit for two more years to the Predators for Ekholm’s $3.75 million for only one more year. Then they don’t have to re-sign Sanheim, who is already making $3.25 million and may see a nice little increase in his paycheck. They also shed Voracek’s contract which has three years left at $8.25 million. That means the Flyers would have $9 million in cap for this summer, and $12.75 plus whatever Sanheim’s extension would be in the summer of 2022. That money will go to re-signing Carter Hart this summer and Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, and Joel Farabee in the summer of 2022.
It’s an absolutely wild scenario but it’s 100% possible if Chuck Fletcher plays his cards right. The crazy part is, it’s not even that big a risk. Yeah, losing Sanheim may seem less than ideal, but with either the players left in the system, or the money they save for not signing him they could find someone of equal or greater value in free agency. Does Fletcher pull the trigger? Is he somewhere cooking up the same scheme? For the long term sake of the Flyers we can sure hope so.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com / 123rf.com / hockeydb.com