Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad is entering the last year of his rookie deal, with a Calder Trophy to his credit and having established himself as a franchise player.
Starting in 2017-18, he’ll be paid like one.
According to Jimmy Murphy of Dirty Water Media and confirmed by George Richards of the Miami Herald, Ekblad will sign an 8-year deal with a $7.5 million average annual value this summer. Richards said he doesn’t anticipate Ekblad signs the deal on July 1, but will do so “soon.” The deal was initially reported by Elliotte Friedman last week.
Ekblad had 36 points in 78 games last season, playing 21:40 per game as a 20 year old. There was some concern that he could be an offer sheet target next summer, but Panthers management has ended that drama before it began.
For comparison’s sake, the $7.5-million hit would rank him behind only P.K. Subban ($9 million), Shea Weber ($7.857 million), Dustin Byfuglien ($7.6 million) and Ryan Suter ($7.539 million) among NHL defensemen.
Is he worth it? Of course.
Is he worth it now? The argument could be made that this should be a bridge contract rather than an 8-year deal, to keep him hungry. But the Panthers know what the have here.
OK, like you, we’re curious how Ekblad looks without Brian Campbell’s assistance on the blue line, as his 5-on-5 numbers with that soon-to-be-departed veteran (57.9 Corsi percentage) were in stark contrast with those without him (47.5 percent with the also-departed Dmitry Kulikov, for example).
But at the end of the day, we’re talking about a smooth-skating defenseman with poise beyond his years who’s only going to get better. (He also looks about 10 years older than he should, but we’re pretty sure this isn’t a Thon Maker situation.
The cap hit is to keep him in Florida. It’s to get him under contract this year rather than risk offer sheet inflation. And by the end of the term, it’s going to be completely worth it for Ekblad’s talents. Especially when franchise defensemen are arguably the NHL’s most precious commodity these days.
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