Instant Analysis: Flyers Acquire Ellis

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The Philadelphia Flyers have acquired 30-year-old defenseman Ryan Ellis from the Nashville Predators in exchange for 24-year-old defenseman Phil Myers and 22-year-old center Nolan Patrick. Ellis has six seasons remaining on his contract, at a $6.25 million average annual value. 

The deal was made ahead of a temporary NHL trade freeze that will run until July 22.

“Ryan is an excellent all-around defenseman,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “In our opinion, he’s one of the best passers in the game on the blueline. He’s great in transition. He can play on the power play. He’s got a heavy shot. And he’s a very good penalty killer.”

The first thing Flyers fans who are unfamiliar with the veteran defenseman is that the right-handed, right-side blueliner eats a lot of all-situation ice time. Over the last five seasons (2016-17 to 2020-21), Ellis ranks 18th among all NHL defensemen in ice time per game at 23:47 (19:01 even strength, 2:10 power play, 2:35 shorthanded). He has averaged 28.3 shifts per game. Ellis is a lock to be paired with Ivan Provorov on the Flyers’ top blueline duo.

The addition of Ellis brings something that the Flyers lost when Matt Niskanen retired after the 2019-20 season: The ability to more ideally slot all three defensive pairs in the rotation. 

Ellis has had some injury issues in his career, especially the last two seasons, in which he was limited to 49 and 35 regular season games, respectively. He dealt with shoulder problems in 2020-21. When healthy, however, he remained a highly effective two-way defenseman for the Predators.He is a very skilled puck-mover, getting the puck up to the forwards smoothly and crisply. On the offensive side of the puck, he posted eight goals and 38 points in 2019-20 and five goals and 18 points this past season. Defensively, he blocked 534 shot attempts (23.96 per 60 minutes of ice time) in that time span. 

“That’s a concern with everybody. He’s 30 years old. But we believe he’s got good hockey ahead of him. It’s tough to predict injuries. Certainly, he’s a man who plays hard. But there’s no reason to think that he can’t [stay reasonably healthy]. We like the player. We like the cap hit. We think it’s a fair number and we also like the fact that he’s already signed. He’s not a player that we traded for and now we have to turn around and try to find a way to sign to a contract in the next year or so. He brings some cost certainty that we can plug in for a few years, and it’s a very fair cap hit for the quality of player we acquired,” Fletcher said.

In terms of traditional plus-minus, Ellis’ plus-81 rating over the last five seasons is tied for fourth best among all NHL defensemen in that time period. From an analytics standpoint, he has an individual 52.2 percent Corsi at even strength for his career with a close split between offensive and defensive zone starts (51.9 percent offensive zone). An alternate captain with the Predators, Ellis figures to step quickly into a blueline leadership role with the Flyers. He brings a steadying presence when things get chaotic.

“He’s been part of the leadership group in Nashville for awhile,” Flyers said. “He’s a competitive, team-oriented player. For us, we think he’s a well-rounded hockey player, a quality person and someone we feel very fortunate we were able to add to our group today.”

“Overall, just surprised, shocked and at the same time, excited. New challenge and new chapter,” Ellis said of his initial reaction to the trade to Flyers senior communications director Zack Hill.

Fletcher said it was not easy to part with Patrick or Myers. Trading them was not a matter of giving up on either player’s upside but a matter of dealing what it took to be able to address a key team need early in the offseason.

Patrick is an arbitration-ineligible restricted free agent for the second straight offseason. It’s a positive that he mostly stayed healthy in 2020-21 but it was a frustrating and ineffective season overall for the second overall pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. After missing the entire 2019-20 season due to chronic migraine syndrome and then posting a mere nine points (4g, 5a) in 2020-21, Patrick may have needed a change of scenery. He’ll get a fresh opportunity in Nashville.

Myers qualified as an NHL rookie in 2019-20 and had a promising season. Paired frequently with Travis Sanheim (who had also been a regular partner in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms), they thrived both individually and in tandem as the season progressed. The pairing had a rather uneven postseason performance in the Bubble in Toronto but hopes were high for a true breakout season in 2020-21. With the Flyers losing Niskanen after 2019-20, there was speculation that Myers could even earn a top-pairing spot as the right-side defense partner for Ivan Provorov. 

Unfortunately, Myers never got untracked, dealing with an early-season injury, wild swings of inconsistency within games, decision-making issues (sometimes being too aggressive, other times too reactive) and struggles in correcting mistakes. Myers was a healthy scratch multiple times, and wound up dressing in just 44 of 56 games. However, he also played effectively in stretches. 

Despite trading Patrick and Myers, the Flyers remain stocked in terms of young talent including Travis Konecny, Joel Farabee, Wade Allison, Morgan Frost, Tanner Laczynski and 2020 first-round pick Tyson Foerster up front and the likes of Cam York and Egor Zamula on defense. The team also retains all seven of its 2021 draft picks, including the 13th overall pick of the first round.