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NHL Trade Deadline: 9 defensemen teams might target

Kathryn Tappen, Patrick Sharp and Dominic Moore break down the West Division and discuss how St. Louis can overcome injuries to win a playoff spot while San Jose's experience may also give them a boost down the stretch.

The 2021 NHL trade deadline is Monday, April. 12 at 3 p.m. ET. As we wait to see who will be dealt, we’ll be looking at the top names who could be on the move next week. Today, we finish with defensemen.

Mattias Ekholm, Predators (30 years old, signed through 2021-22, $3.75M cap hit): As Juuse Saros keeps juicing the Predators’ win-loss record, defensemen like Ekholm keep slipping down various “trade bait” boards. But we might as well get two Predators defensemen out of the way first, as Ekholm and his upcoming colleague rank as the cream of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline crop.

It makes sense that the Predators might get cold feet about trading Ekholm, as he checks oh-so-many boxes. Blueliners as defensively adept as Ekholm simply don’t hit the market (trade or free agent) very often. When given the opportunity, Ekholm’s also revealed some offensive upside, too. Combine those skills with his bargain cap hit and the notion that you can get two playoff runs out of his current deal, and it’s easy to see why he’s so sought-after. And he might just end up too valuable for the Predators to trade.

[NHL Trade Deadline Primer: Back when it seemed clearer with Ekholm]

Ryan Ellis, Predators (30 years old, signed through 2026-27, $6.25M cap hit): About two weeks ago, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman raised eyebrows by asking if the Predators might trade Ryan Ellis instead of Ekholm. It seems silly that the Predators’ 2021 NHL Trade Deadline outlook could change so much after several wins, but hockey -- and especially hockey goalies -- can be tough to predict.

Ellis is an especially interesting name because, like Ekholm, he checks boxes on offense and defense. Consider how their multi-season RAPM charts compare, via Evolving Hockey:


Ellis stands as an even more potentially fascinating potential trade deadline target because such a move would be about the future more than this next run. At the moment, he is healing up from surgery, so a would-be buyer would be thinking about the many years left on his contract. Last season, he put up numbers comparable to Norris Trophy-winning teammate Roman Josi, only Ellis suffered through injuries that killed his argument. While his age makes this contract a gamble, it could pay off if he delivers at a high level. Really, it might make more sense to the (potentially rebuilding) Predators to move such a contract. If the price is right, Ellis could rank as a huge splash -- but we might not see the biggest waves until quite a while after the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.

David Savard, Blue Jackets (30, UFA this summer, $4.25M cap hit): When old-school hockey people conjure images of old-school, punishing, playoff-style defensemen, they think of someone like Savard. John Tortorella sees it that way, too, as Savard tends to go from playing solid minutes in the regular season (20:26 TOI average) to being a playoff workhorse (23:38 TOI average for his playoff career, 25:24 per night during Columbus’ last run). He’s also a right-handed shot, making him a rarer breed. There’s a lot to like, so he’s ranking as high as the top spot on some trade boards. Don’t let that time he boondoggled Victor Hedman fool you, though; Savard’s not going to bring much offense. There are some signals that maybe Savard’s asking price might outpace his reputation, too. If the price stays reasonable, he could be one of the best 2021 NHL Trade Deadline options, on defense and overall.

(It’s also way, way safer to bet on him getting traded instead of Ellis and/or Ekholm.)

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2020-21 NHL Trade Tracker]

Vince Dunn, St. Louis Blues (23, RFA this summer, $1.875M cap hit): From Savard, a defenseman old-school types love, to Dunn, someone who is often off the charts from a “fancy stats” perspective. Granted, Savard and Dunn share an interesting bond in being advanced stat friendly most seasons, except not quite as much in 2020-21:


It’s a bit baffling that the Blues couldn’t find one taker for Dunn earlier this season. Sure, you might need to shelter him, but he’s a 23-year-old defenseman with at least some factors in his favor. He’s cheap for 2020-21, and could be a bargain going forward. Why not give him a shot?

Perhaps the Blues were/are simply asking for too much from a player they don’t seem to like a whole lot? Again, strange stuff, but Dunn carries the potential to be a heck of a reclamation project. Or maybe he was just overrated all along? Defensemen are confusing.

Josh Manson, Ducks (29, signed through 2021-22, $4.1M cap hit): A few years ago, Manson ranked as one of the NHL’s most underrated defensemen. His game has slipped in recent years, though. You can see it even in his deployment, as his ice time average dropped from 22:18 per game in 2018-19 to 20:38 per night last season, and all the way down to 17:19 this season. Not ideal on a Ducks team that’s basically asking John Gibson to save them most nights. That said, Manson’s experienced without being too old, is a right-handed shot, and some might hope that he merely needs a change of scenery. (If you need a laugh, consider the reported asking price of “first-round pick and top prospect” for Manson, as Pierre LeBrun reported for TSN.)

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Brandon Montour, Sabres (26, UFA this summer, $3.85M cap hit): Speaking of defensemen who saw better days a few years ago with the Ducks, we have Brandon Montour. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, and that might sell a team on the idea that he could be useful in a better atmosphere than Buffalo. None of his numbers -- traditional, or “fancy” really make you think he’d avoid his next coach’s doghouse for very long. (Then again, that skill, and he’s a right-handed shot ...)

Ryan Murray, Devils (27, UFA this summer, $4.6M cap hit): Thanks to a dizzying array of injuries early in his career, Murray never really had a chance to justify being the second overall pick. Even of what turned out to be a lousy 2012 NHL Draft. Mike Ditka didn’t need the wig. To Murray’s credit, he’s found a niche as a meat-and-potatoes defenseman, especially during certain stretches previously with Columbus. It won’t be easier to trade Murray after the Devils already retained salaries in trading Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, though.

Dmitry Kulikov, Devils (30, UFA this summer, $1.15M cap hit): Kulikov ranks high on the list of most confounding players of this pandemic-shortened season. Most seasons, he’s ranked somewhere between mediocre and outright bad. Yet, in this broken Devils season, he’s been shockingly effective. Observe one more RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey, which isn’t the only place where his metrics shine:


If you’ve followed Kulikov’s career, you’ll “Huh?” with me. Considering his miniscule cap hit, Kulikov might be worth a very small gamble at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.

[Islanders land Kyle Palmieri from Devils in blockbuster trade]

Jamie Oleksiak, Stars (28, UFA this summer, $2.14M cap hit): Wait, by law, is Oleksiak allowed to be traded in a deal not also involving the Penguins? Might need to call Saul.

Anyway, Oleksiak is a huge defenseman with solid experience. He’s mostly been lingering around average, although he enjoyed a startling burst of offense when Rick Bowness allowed him to take some chances. Could be an interesting possibility if the Stars shop him at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.

(Dials up Harvey Birdman, just in case.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.