Mattias Ekholm would have signed for 20 years if he could.
Unfortunately for the 31-year-old defenseman, the NHL doesn't permit contracts of that length - nor will he likely still be playing two decades later - but Ekholm, his wife, Ida, and his two young children wouldn't mind residing in Nashville for that amount of time.
"We're super excited to stay here, and it was a no-brainer for us," Ekholm said Wednesday afternoon from Bridgestone Arena, his family seated to the right of his gaze from a stage all for him. "We wanted to stay for 20 years, but we'll start with the four and we'll see what David can do in the future."
The eve of Opening Night for the Predators always comes with a bit of extra fanfare, but Ekholm has never experienced something quite like this just before the start of a fresh season.
He didn't mind, though.
An anchor of Nashville's defense corps, Ekholm inked a four-year, $25 million contract on Wednesday that will keep him in the Music City through the 2025-26 campaign. The contract will begin in the 2022-23 season and carries an annual average value of $6.25 million.
No longer one of the most underrated blueliners in the League - the secret seems to be out now - Ekholm has proven to be well worth the new deal, as he's become a steadfast presence on the backend with the Preds for almost a decade.
He's played his entire 586-game NHL career in Nashville, and Ekholm isn't a man who seems interested in doing so elsewhere, either.
"It's nice to know that I'll be here for the foreseeable future, hopefully for [the rest of] my career," Ekholm said. "It's been the only team I've been with, and I'm really honored to be a part of this team, and to be part of it for a number of more years. Me and my family made this decision yesterday, and it was not a hard one. We really love it here, we've loved it here from Day One, and it's kind of what my wife and I were talking about this morning - from the first guy when you drive down the tunnel and you need to park your cars to the equipment managers to everyone that works around the front office and coaches and everyone - it's just a family kind of feeling here, and we've always enjoyed that and cherished that… We're really happy to be here, and now we just want to compete for a Stanley Cup and we want to help the community grow."
Getting the deal done before the 2021-22 season began was an added bonus, especially for someone like Ekholm who had no desire to have a contract negotiation incomplete over the upcoming months while trying to focus on the game.
Now, the 6-foot-4 Swede can devote his attention to being a father and husband at home and a stud D-man on the ice.
"We took a little bit of a deadline yesterday to just not have to focus too much on this throughout the year," Ekholm said of signing the contract before the season. "I know it's a lot with [having] two kids and family around, and then trying to focus on the ice and then [having] this, it's a lot. So, it was good that we were able to get it done yesterday, because even if we wouldn't [have], we wouldn't talk [negotiations], I guess… It was a relief to get it done, for sure, and we're really excited the way it turned out. It's a really good feeling today."
Predators General Manager David Poile has that same feeling with one of his star players signed for the next five years in total. Just as staying in Nashville was an easy decision for Ekholm, choosing to keep the defenseman in Tennessee came just as simply to Poile, and the GM was elated to have No. 14 sitting by his side with a new deal in hand.
"As a player, I look at it like a house," Poile said. "You can't have a good house unless you have a good foundation, and Ekky is a foundational player for the Predators. He, along with [Captain] Roman Josi, are clearly the anchors of our defense. Ekky's a leader, has worn an 'A' for the last few years, and he'll be an assistant captain this year… As a person, they don't get much better. Whatever your definition of a pro is, Ekky is a pro… He's a leader with our hockey club, he's a mentor for younger guys and he's got a lot more to prove in his hockey career."
That journey continues in the days and weeks ahead, and while Ekholm has been around long enough to know there's simply no way of telling how a season in the NHL will turn out, there's optimism about this current Predators group for a few reasons.
"I'm very excited, and I think the way we've practiced and the way we've done this camp and played in those games, I think that speaks volumes about this team," Ekholm said. "It seems like there's a lot of guys with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder and want to show that they're better than they have been in the past. All these young guys are showing that they want to be in the lineup, but they don't just want to be in the lineup, they want to contribute, and so it's really cool. It's kind of like we have a new car that will go for a test drive [Opening Night], and it's going to be awesome to see how far we can go."
What Ekholm does know for sure is he didn't want to go anywhere else outside of this town. Now, he's got another stint here to play for the organization he loves in a city that has become a second home.
Like so many who have come before him, Nashville has become something more than just a place to live. Ekholm's children were born here, and he's grown into not only a star hockey player in these parts, but also a husband and a father who doesn't want to raise his family anywhere else.
That's worth a 20-year commitment - one more deal at a time.
"[My family] weighs into this decision as well," Ekholm said. "When it comes down to it, at the end of the day, it's got to be fit on the ice, but it's also the big pieces that fit on the outside for my family. There was another big decision, and for us, when it came down to it, I wanted to stay. I've been here my whole career, and I take pride in that, too. To be drafted, and now it's been 10-plus years here, we love it here."
Video: Poile, Ekholm talk four-year contract extension