Ryan Ellis Traded To The Flyers In Blockbuster Three-Team Trade
Nine years and three-hundred and sixty-three days ago, the hockey world witnessed a blockbuster transaction. The Philadelphia Flyers acquired a top-pairing right-handed defenseman from the Nashville Predators in a jaw-dropping, unprecedented move.
Monday marks the tenth anniversary of the 14-year, $110 million offer-sheet the Flyers inked then restricted free agent Shea Weber to. Had the Predators declined to match, the Flyers would’ve brought in one of the best defensemen in the sport. Doing so would’ve meant surrendering four 1st round picks; they ultimately became Scott Laughton, Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim, and Ivan Provorov. The butterfly effect would’ve been massive. The Weber for P.K. Subban blockbuster, Nashville’s run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final (and Montréal’s in 2021), and Philadelphia’s decade of mediocrity would’ve vanished for an unknown alternate universe. Maybe Weber would’ve paired with another former Predator in Kimmo Timonen and brought the Stanley Cup to Philadelphia. Maybe Nashville would’ve used the haul of first-round picks to become a dynasty. But the Predators matched, and a Nashville born-and-bred blue-liner would never again grace the Flyers top pair.
It’s hard to know where to start analyzing such a massive trade. Most of the three-team deals over the last few years usually involve a team merely for cap purposes. The last true three-team blockbuster also involved Nashville; it was the Matt Duchene from Colorado to Ottawa blockbuster. Duchene disappointed in Ottawa and was flipped for futures a year later. The Predators acquired Kyle Turris, who flamed out after a hot start and will be clinging onto Nashville’s cap until 2028 after being bought out last summer. The Avs made out bandits; Joe Sakic hit home runs by acquiring Ottawa’s 2019 1st rounder (4th overall) and (from Nashville) defenseman Samuel Girard.
For Philadelphia, their number one priority this off-season was acquiring a top-pair right-handed defenseman. The stunning retirement of Matt Niskanen last offseason wasn’t the only reason the Flyers went from Cup darkhorse to a hot mess that missed the playoffs. But it did get that ball rolling. Niskanen did wonders during his lone year in Philadelphia, forming an excellent top-pair with Ivan Provorov. If nothing else, the Flyers have filled in the hole left by Niskanen’s departure in acquiring Ellis. It’s a massive boost for a Flyers team that surrendered 3.52 goals per game last year, more than any other team.
While he doesn’t have the name recognition of someone like Weber, Ellis has been one of the best defensemen in hockey for several years. Since the 2017-18 season, Ellis ranks tied for 30th in NHL defenseman with 129 points (the same amount as Provorov), tied for 14th in points per game, and tied (coincidentally, with Weber) for 16th in time on ice per game (min. 200 games played). He’s scored 37 power-play points since 2016-17, a respectable mark considering Ellis was largely manning Nashville’s second unit behind Roman Josi or/and P.K. Subban.
But Ellis is far from a one-dimensional blue-liner; he has delivered stellar underlying numbers for the majority of the last seven seasons. Nashville has outscored the opposition with Ellis on the ice every year of his career except one (2012-13); in five of the last eight seasons, Ellis’ 5v5 on-ice goals for percentage has been greater than 55%, with two near misses in the 54% range. He’s been on the ice for fewer actual 5v5 goals against/per 60 than his teammates in six of the last seven seasons; by expected goals against, he’s in the green (positive relative to teammates) in three of the last five years, including 2020-21. Both his raw and relative to his teammate numbers in Corsi and Expected Goals are excellent over his career. He’s a tremendous player.
But he’s also one coming off a bit of a down season. Ellis battled injury in 2021, only playing in 35 of Nashville’s 56 games due to a shoulder injury. His 18 points in those games were roughly on par with his 2018-19 season (41 points in 82 games). But Ellis has a higher offensive level (19-20: 38 points in 49 games; 17-18: 32 points in 44 games) that he didn’t reach last year. By now, you’ve probably also picked up on another concern; Ellis has injury trouble staying healthy. Over the last five years, Ellis has missed 90 regular-season games, roughly 24.3% of Nashville’s schedule. And in 2021, even when he was playing, Ellis delivered a good but not great year by his standards, highlighted by a career-low 49.89% Expected Goals Percentage.
Ellis’ track record suggests he’ll bounce back. But it’s not a guarantee, and the 30-year old’s 6-year contract at $6.25 million raises the stakes. If Ellis’ unspectacular 2021 season is a sign he’s on the wrong side of the aging curve, this bet looks a lot dicier for Philadelphia. And while he’ll be playing with a good defenseman in Ivan Provorov, he’s no Roman Josi. There’s definitely some risk on the Flyers side of this deal.
To acquire Ellis, the Flyers dealt two very talented young but flawed players. Let’s start with the lone player the Predators will be keeping – Phil Myers. Once an undrafted free agent, Myers rose to top-prospect status shortly after inking his entry-level deal with the Flyers in September 2015. From the WHL to Team Canada to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Myers just kept improving at a rapid pace. He made his NHL debut on February 17, 2019; getting his feet wet in 21 games down the stretch in 2018-19.
A rough training camp the following fall briefly returned Myers to the AHL. But by November, Myers was re-called, and this time, he was in the NHL to stay. He flourished on a pair with Travis Sanheim down the stretch through the first round of the playoffs. He delivered a signature moment with an OT winner in Game 2 against the Islanders in Round 2; it was Philadelphia’s first playoff OT goal in eight years. His playoffs ended on a sour note, with Myers struggling for most of the second round. But Myers appeared to be a key cog in Philly’s top-four heading into 2020-21.
But Myers’ inconsistency continued this past season, where he took a step back. Myers is such a special player because of his make-up. Right-handed defensemen come at a premium in today’s NHL; a league built for players who can skate well and move the puck. But size still plays a role and is valued by most of the league’s GMs; look no further for why rising stars like Brayden Point, Alex DeBrincat, and Cole Caufield slipped in their draft years. It’s extremely rare to find a player who meets these criteria. But the 6’5” Myers meets the mobility and puck-moving criteria, and he’s still only 23.
Of course, Myers isn’t a perfect player. His decision-making can be questionable at times (though his incredible recovery ability allows him to sometimes get away with them) and he struggles to get shots through from the point. Those issues culminated in being healthy scratched multiple times this past season. Myers brings a unique, impressive, and highly coveted skillset to the table; it will be up to Nashville to unlock it consistently. Considering the success the Predators have with developing defenders over the years, it could be a mutually beneficial match.
The decision to flip Patrick for Cody Glass, taken four picks after Patrick in the 2017 NHL Draft, is a gutsy call by both sides. After being selected second overall in that aforementioned draft, Patrick’s career has been a rollercoaster. He struggled mightily in the first half of his rookie year, looking completely overmatched. But a promotion to the second-line at the all-star break galvanized Patrick; he scored at roughly a half-point-per-game pace in the second half and seemed to be turning the corner. He showed flashes of brilliance in 2018-19; but also went scoreless for 24 straight games at one point and overall struggled to produce consistently despite top-six ice-time and linemates. On the whole, he failed to take a step forward in 18-19. Not the end of the world for a then 19-year old, but at least a little concerning.
True rock bottom came in 2019-20, with Patrick (who suffered multiple concussions in his first two seasons, missing a combined 21 games) missing the entire year due to migraine disorder. The injury clearly had a difficult effect on Patrick, surely both in terms of the migraines themselves and missing the opportunity to play the sport he loves. Thankfully, Patrick was able to return to the ice for the most recent season, even scoring in his first game back. But that was basically the only positive moment for Patrick; he scored just 9 points in 52 games (thankfully no injuries, but he was occasionally healthy scratched) and sported an ugly 24% on-ice goals for percentage at 5v5.
At just 22, Patrick definitely still has the chance to be a very solid middle-six center; his possession numbers were respectable last year, and he definitely has some offensive skill. Losing a #2 pick just five years after drafting them, even for a great player like Ellis, is a tough pill to swallow. It’s a shame Patrick’s tenure in Philadelphia didn’t pan out like anyone hoped. Patrick won’t be an immediate answer to Vegas’ lack of a clear number-one center. But he should slot in nicely behind Chandler Stephenson and William Karlsson. Of course, that’s barring any potential moves by Vegas; their place in the Jack Eichel sweepstakes is still alive and well.
The Vegas Golden Knights are gambling that the change of scenery brings out Patrick’s true potential, just as Nashville is betting will happen with Glass. Taken 6th overall in 2017, Glass hasn’t been able to stick at the NHL level despite decent offensive totals in two NHL stints (19-20: 12 points in 39 games, 20-21: 10 points in 27 games). He was a dominant offensive forward in junior, scoring 171 points in 112 WHL games over the 17-18 and 18-19 seasons. Nashville will likely project Glass to be their third-line center behind Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen. He’s a highly skilled player with some size (6’3”, 206 lbs) that just hasn’t put it together at the NHL level.
Let’s also touch on how this may affect each team’s decisions for the upcoming Seattle expansion draft. Vegas is exempt from the process, so acquiring Patrick doesn’t effect them one way or the other. Nashville will likely pivot from protecting eight skaters to seven forwards and three defensemen with Ellis now gone. This allows the Predators to protect some (or maybe all) of forwards like Rocco Grimaldi, Calle Jarnkrök, Nick Cousins, Yakov Trenin, or/and Colton Sissons; quality players who may have otherwise been exposed. Glass is just a second-year professional, so he’s exempt and won’t require protection.
Ellis will take Myers’ spot on the Flyers defensive protection list; up-front, it’s a little less clear. I think it’s likely the Flyers replace Patrick with Nicolas Aubé-Kubel in the interest of steering Seattle towards a big-money option like James van Riemsdyk, Shayne Gostisbehere, or Jakub Voracek (the latter of whom the Flyers are reportedly looking to move on from). GM Chuck Fletcher was unwilling to divulge the Flyers plans when asked during the post-trade press conference. The league is scheduled to release all 30 protection lists tomorrow.
This three-team mega-deal wasn’t the only move in a flurry of action before the NHL went into a trade freeze at 3 P.M. Saturday to make room for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft (teams are only permitted to make trades with Seattle until Thursday at 1 P.M.). Multiple teams made moves; either taking advantage of other team’s roster and salary cap predicaments or trying to move pieces for something to avoid losing them to Seattle for nothing. But this one is no doubt the biggest. A top-pair defenseman still hopefully in his prime. Two former top-six draft picks. And a 23-year old right-handed defenseman with gobs of raw skill. Those are some significant players changing hands.
It’s no doubt a difficult moment for Predators fans. Despite a strong second half carrying the team to the playoffs and a commendable effort in a Round 1 defeat, the writing seems to be on the wall for Nashville’s core. With Mattias Ekholm’s deal to expire after one more year and Duchene and Johansen’s combined $16 million cap hit likely holding the team back, it seems like the best era of Predators hockey to date is coming to a close.
The Predators epic Stanley Cup Finals run in 2017 will always hold a special place in Smashville’s heart; even if it ended two wins and one premature whistle short. But saying goodbye to Ellis, a fan-favorite and incredible player, will sting despite all of the success he accomplished during his ten years in Nashville. The good news? Glass and Myers are both intriguing talents that could be centerpieces of the next great Predators team(s), whenever they come around. David Poile did at least a solid job here (depending on what you think of Glass, Myers, and I guess Patrick). This trade sets the Predators up for the future by bringing in two very talented players under the age of 24.
Vegas’ gamble is much more straightforward, and at least for now, doesn’t appear to be franchise-altering. Maybe that changes if Patrick blossoms in the Sin City; or maybe it changes in the other direction if they find themselves wondering what could’ve been if only Glass makes a big leap in his new home. Patrick’s injury history is concerning, as his lack of production this year. But it’s certainly fair to expect someone playing in their first NHL games since April 2019 to take a step back. After lottery balls separated the Golden Knights from Patrick five years ago, they’ll get a chance to see if they were meant to be together all along.
But the Flyers are the team sticking their neck out the farthest in this deal. With captain Claude Giroux and 2020 Selke Trophy winner Sean Couturier set to be free agents in 2022, it was time for the Flyers to crap or get off the pot. If the Ron Hextall era was all about building up enough prospect and draft pick ammunition to be able to go all-in once again, the Chuck Fletcher era is quickly becoming the natural next step: to take big swings. Fletcher hit a home run in the 2019 offseason, bringing in Niskanen and Justin Braun on buy-low trades and inking Kevin Hayes to a massive contract. The trio filled holes at right defense and second-line center. And the result was the Flyers winning their first playoff series win in eight years. Not too shabby.
Fletcher made the defendable choice to largely sit out the 2020 offseason, but underperformance and COVID torpedoed his club’s season. There hopefully won’t be an encore of that in 2021-22. But the risk of staying pat was just too much considering the expectations of fans and the organization as a whole. There are certainly reasons to be a bit wary of Ellis’ arrival. But this is also the biggest move the Flyers have made since the Chris Pronger trade in 2009; and remember, that move pushed the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final one year later. There’s no guarantee acquiring Ellis does the same (or two wins better). But it’s a huge move for an organization that finally ran out of reasons to stop trusting the status quo; the same feeling that promoted mass action two summers ago.
The Flyers may have boxed themselves into a narrow contention window considering the ages of their highest-paid players; Giroux and van Riemsdyk are 32, Voracek is 31. And this trade does open up a hole on second pair’s right-side where Myers was once slotted in. But that’s a much easier and cheaper void to fill than the one Ellis covers. Acquiring Ellis clearly moves the needle forward for the Flyers to take a permanent step in the right direction. Throughout a decade of bouncing from first-round fodder to playoff afterthought, with last year darkening the spotlight of the bright lights that the Flyers battled back into in 2020, consistent on-ice success has always remained out of their grasp.
That’s exactly what the Flyers were trying to maintain with the Weber offer sheet. At the time, Philadelphia was coming off five consecutive playoff appearances. They won a round in four of those years. And in 2010, they came just two wins shy of winning it all. At the time they offer-sheeted Weber, the Flyers had recently and unexpectedly lost the top-pair defenseman they’d just traded for (sound familiar?). More importantly, they were willing to do whatever it took to replace him. Yet those ambitions ultimately went unfulfilled; leaving the Flyers still chasing the glory they experienced at the beginning of Pronger’s tenure.
Though few in the organization from back then remain, it’s clear the Flyers are determined on avoiding an encore. 2021 marked the first time since the Weber miss the Flyers were expected to be great; instead, everything fell apart again. The Flyers may not have matched last year’s lofty goals. But ensuring their expectations do not slip is the best they can do until the puck drops in October. And no matter how well it ages, trading for Ryan Ellis does just that.