Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad Needs a New Defense Partner

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 1: Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers skates with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the BB&T Center on December 1, 2018 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 1: Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers skates with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the BB&T Center on December 1, 2018 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images) /

It’s no secret that the Florida Panthers need a new defensive partner for Aaron Ekblad. Panthers GM Dale Tallon has made it clear that he will be looking to have an aggressive offseason to fill some glaring holes in the Panthers roster, but who is the ideal fit?

At first glance, this years’ list of free-agent defensemen looks promising and Dale Tallon reportedly told George Richards of The Athletic that he would like to scoop up a right-handed, top-four defenseman this offseason (note: article is behind a paywall).

However, for the Cats, it’s not as simple as signing the best available d-man and expecting success alongside Aaron Ekblad.

Sure, there are some big name free agents out there with Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers, Anton Stralman, and Jacob Trouba all looking for new contracts, but like Ekblad, they’re all right-handed and play on the right side.

Florida’s only current left-handed defensemen are Keith Yandle, Mike Matheson, and Ian McCoshen – none of which work well with Ekblad.

If the Florida Panthers are looking to find a reliable upgrade for their former rookie of the year to play with they may need to get creative.

If Tallon chooses to pursue a blueliner in free agency, he will have some options. Given Ekblad’s tendency to jump up in the offense, a stay at home defenseman with a lock-down mentality seems like a solid fit.

One name that comes to mind is Jordie Benn. The 31-year-old, Vancouver Island native is coming off a career year posting a respectable 22 points in 81 games with a +/- of 15.

Granted, he may not be considered a top-four defenseman, but with rumors swirling around the Panthers signing both Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, Florida may be looking to find a relatively cheap fix for their blueline.

Benn has proven that he’s a sturdy everyday player and will likely be looking for around $3.5 million per year. Last season he logged an average of over 18 minutes a game and showed that he can shut down opponents when called upon.

His solid 6’2″ frame and physical presence should be enough to convince Florida to at least give his agent a call.

Dale Tallon may, however, be looking to acquire a younger asset with more room to grow and an even larger body to shore up on defense. Former 2013 first-round pick Nikita Zadorov fits that description.

The 24-year-old, 6’5″ Russian could be a nice fit on a Panthers blue line that has somewhat lacked size and grit since the departure of Erik Gudbranson.

Zadorov is a pending RFA meaning if the Panthers choose to go after him, they would likely trade for his rights before signing him to a contract.

The price would be lower than a handful of other defensive options considering he only posted 14 points last season.

On the flip side, Zadorov is still young and has room to grow. With Joel Quenneville behind the Panthers bench, the possibility of Zadorov reaching his full potential in Florida may be enough for the Panthers to pull the trigger.

With over 130 NHL playoff games on his resume, Braydon Coburn is an intriguing player. The 34-year-old has played the past five seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning and put up 23 points in 74 games last season.

He’s coming off a three-year contract with an AAV of $3.7 million but has the experience the Panthers may need to reach the postseason.

With over 900 NHL games played, he’s a strong defenseman with the ability to play a solid shutdown game.

It’s unlikely that the Lightning will re-sign him as they have very little cap space and a handful of players seeking new deals.

Coburn could slide into the Panthers’ top four on the back end and provide an experienced voice in the locker room.

Florida Panthers
Florida Panthers /

Florida Panthers

Another possible option could be trading for Olli Maatta of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Maatta is still just 24-years-old but has won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins and has played 69 playoff games.

The young Finnish defender has shown flashes of promise with his puck-moving ability, smooth skating, and vision on the ice but has seen his name tossed around in trade rumors of late.

He may not be a defensive-minded defenseman, but he shows great promise and his skating is top-four caliber.

Last season Maatta took a step back posting 14 points in 60 games which isn’t incredibly enticing if you’re the Panthers GM, but on the flip side, it does lower his trade value.

Acquiring the left-handed defender this offseason would be a high risk, high reward situation for Florida. Maatta has three years remaining on his contract at just over $4 million a year and is young enough to grow into what would be considered a bargain at that price.

The Penguins would most likely be looking to trade for pieces that could help them win now. Their core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang are all over 30-years-old and they will be looking to push for another cup before their window closes.

Could the Pens be interested in Denis Malgin and Mark Pysyk? Those are two names the Panthers could afford to shop if they are truly interested in Maatta and his services.

Again, Tallon has said he is looking to add a right-handed, top-four defenseman this offseason. This team is in desperate need of improvements to their blue line and it would be nice to see Tallon get his wish, but they also require someone who can play with Ekblad.

If the Cats manage to sign both Panarin and Bobrovsky, money will be tight and the team won’t have the cap space to go after big fish like Karlsson or Myers.

Next. How Badly Do the Florida Panthers Need Sergei Bobrovsky?. dark

It will be an interesting offseason for many reasons, but one move that may get swept under the rug is who the Florida Panthers sign to play with their young star defender Aaron Ekblad.