Florida Panthers defenseman and captain Aaron Ekblad left tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning after suffering what looks like a head injury. Lightning forward Gabriel Dumont hit Ekblad in the corner and Ekblad immediately went down clutching his head. The Panthers later announced that Ekblad will not return tonight.
Losing Ekblad would certainly hinder the Panthers’ playoff hopes. The team sits 6 points out with 16 games remaining. Ekblad has 10G and 11A in 66 games. The Panthers have some backup with UFA signing Keith Yandle, but Ekblad leads all defensemen in goals, and all players in shots. With four teams to jump, the Panthers need to almost run the table for the rest of the season. Losing Ekblad makes that almost impossible.
The head injury is Ekblad’s second head injury this year, and third in 20 months. In September Ekblad suffered concussion-like symptoms at the World Cup of Hockey that the Panthers eventually called whiplash. Ekblad also suffered a concussion in January 2016. His injury history may worry the Panthers, expecially after signing EKblad to a eight-year, $60MM extension that kicks in next season.