Gilbert: Adding Ellis only the beginning of Flyers’ big offseason moves
Chuck Fletcher made his first big splash of the offseason this weekend. The Philadelphia Flyers traded Philippe Myers and Nolan Patrick to the Nashville Predators for Ryan Ellis. Patrick was then swapped to the Vegas Golden Knights for Cody Glass. It was one of many trades in a flurry of activity before Saturday’s NHL roster freeze.
Ryan Ellis was one of the many names on the defensemen market that the Flyers were looking into. Given the Seth Jones drama in Columbus, and Dougie Hamilton drawing of interest ahead of free agency, Fletcher pounced on the opportunity to get Ellis.
Flyers have had a “long-time interest in Ryan Ellis”
The Flyers were reportedly a fit for Ryan Ellis during the season, and Chuck Fletcher confirmed on Saturday that he’s had eyes on the former Predators defenseman for a while.
“I’ve been speaking to [Predators GM David Poile] for a long time. We’ve had a long-time interest in Ryan Ellis,” Fletcher said. “I spoke to David about potential defenseman trades last season, prior to when our season shut down basically due to the pause.”
That lines up with the reports about the Flyers’ interest in Ellis. The Predators reportedly scouted the Flyers and Phantoms multiple times in March and Ellis was one of the defensemen they were shopping.
“We were looking for help on the blue line in the offseason. We were looking for help on the blue line during the season. Once we kind of took a big step back last year, I put that on pause just to get to the offseason,” Fletcher continued. “We’ve been speaking for several weeks now.”
Ryan Ellis “checks a lot of boxes” for the Flyers
Ellis has played top-four minutes for nearly the entirety of his career. He averaged 16:55 per game from 2011 to 2015, when he had the best season of his career up until that point. After that, Ellis averaged over 20 minutes per game from 2015 to 2021. Since the 2016-17 season, Ellis averaged over 23 minutes a game in every single season.
“I think this is a good fit for our team and we paid a price,” Fletcher said. “We recognize that but it’s very difficult to get to defensemen like this. We’re happy with the cap number. We’re happy with the player and we think that he checks a lot of boxes.”
Ellis does check a lot of boxes. He can play big minutes in all situations and should help the Flyers in transition. It feels like the past decade the Flyers have had trouble clearing their own zone. Ellis should help with that as well as many other aspects of the game.
“Well, Ryan is an excellent all-around defenseman. In our opinion, he is one of the best passers in the game on the blue line. He’s great in transition. He can play the power play. He’s got a heavy shot and he’s a very good penalty killer,” Fletcher said. “He’s been part of the leadership group in Nashville for a while. He’s a competitive, team-oriented type of player. We think he’s a really well-rounded hockey player, a quality person, and somebody that we feel very fortunate that we were able to add to our group today.”
Flyers believe Ellis “has good hockey ahead of him”
One of the downsides to Ellis is his age and injury-riddled past. He is 30 years old and missed time in three of the last four seasons. However, that’s a risk that the Flyers are willing to accept.
“That’s a concern with everybody. He’s 30 years old. We believe he has good hockey ahead of him. It’s tough to predict injuries, certainly is a man that plays hard. There’s no reason to think that he can’t. We like him a lot as a player,” Fletcher said. “We like the cap hit. We think it’s a fair number and we also like the fact that he’s already signed.”
Ellis is already under contract through the 2026-27 season at a $6.25 million cap hit. He and Ivan Provorov ($6.75 million through 2024-25 season) should be a formidable top pair for the Flyers for years to come.
Provorov had the best year of his career in the 2019-20 season when he was primarily paired with Matt Niskanen. Niskanen and Ellis are similar players in that they both bring some veteran experience and steady presence on the blue line.
“They’re a little bit different players, but they do have some similarities,” Fletcher said of Niskanen and Ellis. “He’s a quality team-first individual and he checks a lot of the same boxes that that Nisky did. I think Ryan probably has a little bit more offensive in this game than maybe Nisky did. I think Nisky was maybe being a little bit more of a defensive defenseman. In actuality, they’re both very good two-way defensemen.”
Analyzing the Flyers’ trade package for Ellis
One of the best things about Saturday’s trade, from the Flyers’ perspective, is the price they paid for Ellis. Or rather, the deal they got for Ellis. Philippe Myers and Nolan Patrick may both turn things around as they are still very early in their young careers. However, it just didn’t seem like they –– Patrick in particular –– would fit the role that the Flyers needed them to.
Losing Myers in the trade hurts more than losing Patrick. Ron Hextall plucked Myers as an undrafted free agent and the Flyers watched him develop into potentially a top-four NHL defenseman. He showed flashes of that during the 2019-20 season with Travis Sanheim. Then the 2021 season came along. Myers had several opportunities to step up with the Flyers’ lackluster group of right defensemen, but he failed to do so.
Myers’ ceiling is probably around where Ellis is right now. Myers can still possibly be a top-pair defenseman, but a second-pair guy is much more likely. He also may not get to his ceiling for a few more years while Ellis is near the top of his game. It lines up a lot better with the Flyers’ win-now mindset in a critical offseason for the club.
Trading Patrick this offseason seemed almost inevitable. He hired his third agent in as many years and wanted a fresh start somewhere else. Vegas had interest in him at the trade deadline and they were able to grab him as a part of a three-team trade.
The story of Nolan Patrick in Philadelphia is a weird one. He was the unanimous No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft prior to his injury issues. Still, the Flyers lucked into the No. 2 pick and Patrick was there for the taking. In hindsight, the Flyers should’ve passed on Patrick due to those injury issues. Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, and Elias Pettersson –– drafted at No. 3, 4, and 5 respectively –– have all had much better careers than Patrick.
It’s easy to say that the Flyers should’ve snagged one of those three, but they would’ve had a ton of egg on their face –– and Hextall would’ve lost his job quicker than he did –– if Patrick did turn out to be an impact player right out of the gate. Unfortunately, he wasn’t, but the Flyers were able to use him to upgrade from Myers to Ellis without paying anything else.
A change of scenery should help Patrick. He still may become a top-six center and thrive in Vegas, but that wasn’t in the cards in Philadelphia.
“Quite frankly, I still think he has his career ahead of them,” Fletcher said of Patrick. In this case, we moved him today to acquire one of the better defensemen in the NHL. We feel we made a hockey trade and Nolan was a big piece of this trade and of our ability to acquire Ryan Ellis. I think there’s still a story to be written by Nolan for his career. I’m certainly pulling for him and I think the world of him.”
Fletcher said that it was “very difficult” to move Myers and Patrick, but I can’t blame him for the return he got. A guy like Ellis should’ve fetched at least the Flyers’ first-round pick, Morgan Frost, or another prospect.
“Phil Myers is a young man who is going to be a real good defenseman in this league for a long time,” Fletcher said. “I still believe in Patty. Last year, I thought, was a step forward for him in terms of his health and getting back on the ice. I think the production will come and the confidence will come as he continues in his career.”
Adding Ellis is only the beginning: “We’re not going to get complacent”
The Flyers have set themselves up extremely well ahead of the Expansion Draft. Chuck Fletcher was able to add the top-pair defenseman that the Flyers need without giving up their higher-valued assets. As mentioned above, the Flyers still have the 13th overall pick in Friday’s NHL Draft that they can use in a trade package if they so choose.
‘We have a lot of work to do’: Takeaways from Chuck Fletcher’s press conference
Trading for Ellis was a great move by Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers. And it’s only the beginning.
“I think we’re certainly going to continue to look at every avenue to get better. We weren’t good enough last year,” Fletcher said. “Ryan Ellis is an upgrade. He’s a step in the right direction. We’re not going to get complacent. We’ll do what we can to upgrade in the areas we can.”
Adding a top-pair defenseman was certainly near the top of Fletcher’s to-do list this offseason. The GM harped on the Flyers’ goals against number once again on Saturday.
The primary focus certainly going into next year will be on reducing our goals against. As I mentioned the last time we all got together, part of that will be certainly looking to the outside to acquire additional help, whether that’s goaltending, defenseman, or forwards.,” he said. “Wherever we can upgrade, we will.”
The Flyers currently have over $9 million in cap space with Carter Hart and Travis Sanheim as their two main restricted free agents. They’ll still look to clear cap space as well.
There was speculation that the Flyers would protect James van Riemsdyk with Nolan Patrick traded, but Nicolas Aube-Kubel got the last slot.
Flyers Protected List: Nicolas Aube-Kubel gets last spot over James van Riemsdyk
That leaves JVR ($7 million), Jakub Voracek ($8.25 million), and Shayne Gostisbehere ($4.5 million cap hit) as the three best Flyers available to the Kraken. Assuming Seattle takes JVR or Voracek, the Flyers will have over $15 million in cap space to work with. They may even try to move whichever one doesn’t go to Seattle to revamp the team.
If the Flyers do open up over $15 million in cap space, anything could happen. Hamilton could still be in play as a free agent, although someone like David Savard is much more likely. The Flyers have had eyes on Adam Larsson as well.
Hell, maybe the Flyers will go all-out this offseason and try for Jack Eichel, or more likely Vladimir Tarasenko. The possibilities are endless and Chuck Fletcher has done a great job of setting the Flyers up for a successful offseason.
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