Florida Panthers Need to Keep Ekblad and Yandle Separated This Season

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 30: Keith Yandle
SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 30: Keith Yandle /

Despite the two being the best defensemen on the roster, using Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle hasn’t worked in the past, and isn’t going to magically change in 2019-20.

Together, the two are both top 10 in giveaways, have regressed defensively, and neither cover for each other’s mistakes. Yes, there are times when they are brilliant for contributing to the offense, but their combined defensive errors makes the two untrustworthy next to each other.

Aaron Ekblad‘s Florida Panthers career has been up and down. His first two seasons looked incredible, with the first overall pick looking to be someone who could anchor the defense for years.

With 75 points through his first two seasons and solid defensive work next to Brian Campbell, it looked as though Ekblad could continue to develop defensively when Campbell returned to Chicago in free agency.

To help Ekblad out, the Panthers brought in another high caliber defenseman, who was much higher rated by NHL media and fans than Campbell. Trading a few late round picks, the Panthers acquired the rights for New York Rangers’ d-man Keith Yandle.

Yandle fit into the theme the Panthers were trying to build around. Yandle was a two-way defenseman, capable of leading their then-lackluster power play, mentoring Ekblad into Ekblad reached his prime, and creating one of the top defensive pairings in the NHL.

To say that the two flopped together would be putting it lightly. Two two-way defensemen who are more interested in getting goals instead of preventing them does not make a good pairing for their team.

There’s a word that I feel every team should emphasize to their players when they get the privaledge of putting on that sweater every single night; accountability. Players need to know that they need to do what’s best for the team, and need to take blame when something isn’t working.

The pairing of Ekblad and Yandle, as well as former head coach Bob Boughner, lack accountability. When the two were on the ice when Florida leaked goals on a regular basis, yet mostly nothing was done to address it.

Yes, Ekblad has regressed after his series of concussions in the 2016-17 season, and Yandle is continuing to age, but there has to be a way to adapt to this, rather than just continuing to let it happen. The answer is simple, split them apart.

Before, it was harder to split them apart because of the dip in talent levels below them. Using Keith Yandle next to a bottom pairing guy like Mackenzie Weegar just didn’t feel right. It worked, sure, but at that point, you’re wasting his talents next to someone who isn’t much more than a 5th best defenseman in a poor defense, at least for now.

After this past off-season though, there should be a clear way to separate the two for this upcoming season. Pair Aaron Ekblad with Mike Matheson, and place Keith Yandle with Anton Stralman.

Yes, Matheson sounds like a much less exciting option. His 2018-19 season was one to forget, easily one of the worst players from the team after showing signs of promise in years prior.

One thing that playing next to Yandle did for Ekblad was to give him more responsibility defensively. Matheson has potential for points, but he’s much more defensive when he wants to be, despite the smaller build.

Matheson has talent defensively, and should easily grow off of last year with new head coach Joel Quenneville. Quenneville, who commissioned a top defensive unit for the Chicago Blackhawks, will look to repeat the feat in Florida.

For Yandle, Stralman comes over from Tampa Bay having worked with multiple offensive defensemen. He’s been partnered with guys like Victor Hedman, Jason Garrison, and Mikhail Sergachev during his time with the Bolts.

Overall, these two could form a great partnership next season with their experience. Both know each other well, and Stralman could enable Yandle to push up even higher than before.

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Those are just hypotheticals, but one thing that has to happen for certain is to split Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle next season. It will benefit the team, it would benefit both of them, and it will allow both of them to play their game without needing to adapt on separate pairings.