As was widely reported Monday, Florida Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad had successful surgery on a fracture in his left leg and will miss 12 weeks of action.
Ekblad was stretchered off the ice Sunday in a game against the Dallas Stars. He caught his leg under his body after a check from Stars defenceman Esa Lindell midway through the second period. Medical personnel placed a long brace on his left leg.
“To be without a player of Aaron’s calibre and character is an irreplaceable loss to our hockey club,” Florida general manager Bill Zito said. “Aaron is an incredibly driven and talented young player and a tremendous leader for our team. He has the heartfelt support of our organization, his teammates and fans as we wish him the best in his recovery and his eventual return. Despite Aaron’s absence from our lineup, we are confident in our group’s resiliency and motivation as we move forward.”
Ekblad will clearly miss the remainder of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs, so it’s a significant blow to the Panthers.
Florida is currently third in the Central Division, with a 22-9-4 record and 48 points. That puts them one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes and 11 ahead of the Nashville Predators ahead of Tuesday’s action against the Detroit Red Wings.
Ekblad is the ice time leader for the Panthers, averaging 25:05 per game. He has 22 points this season, including 11 goals.
“I think he was great this year,” head coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think he had so many games where he was dominant defensively, but his offensive contribution, joining the attack down, added a different dimension to our power play, significant minutes, matchups, controlling the outcomes of games, you couldn’t ask for anything more. He’s improved. He stepped up this year in his development and has been a big factor.”
The Panthers have decisions to make ahead of the April 12 trade deadline. A defenceman was already in the cards, but now finding a replacement for someone of Ekblad’s calibre becomes an almost impossible mission. Florida can kick their D-man’s $7.5 million salary over to LTIR for more flexibility, so that could open some doors.
Ekblad and his defensive partner MacKenzie Weegar amounted to one of the top pairings in the NHL this season, so adjustments will need to be made.
The playoffs are poised to start the second week of May, with the Cup Final slated for late June or early July.
Florida hasn’t won a playoff series since 1996 and this certainly doesn’t help their chances of altering that course.