Chuck Fletcher addressed the Philadelphia Flyers’ biggest need heading into the 2021-22 season: a true top-pairing defenseman. News broke late Saturday afternoon that the Flyers had acquired Ryan Ellis from the Nashville Predators, with Phil Myers and Nolan Patrick heading the other way. Ellis, 30, is under contract for the next six seasons with an annual cap hit of $6,250,000.
Fletcher spoke to the media just after the Flyers had officially announced the trade, calling Ellis one of the best passers in the game. “Ryan is an excellent all-around defenseman. In our opinion, he’s 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.”
Ellis has been a part of Nashville’s leadership group for a while now and will likely step into that type of role in Philadelphia, just as Niskanen had back in 2019. Niskanen had a massive impact on the Flyers’ blueline, and his partnership with Ivan Provorov led to the latter’s best season to date. They’ll be hoping for a similar outcome with the addition of Ellis.
As with any player heading into their thirties, there is some level of concern with just how hard a player might be hit by the aging curve. Ellis also comes with injury concerns, having missed significant time in recent years, however, a healthy Ellis has the chance to elevate this team like no defenseman has since the team acquired Chris Pronger back in 2009.
“We believe he has good hockey ahead of him. It’s tough to predict injuries. He’s certainly a man who plays hard, but there’s no reason to believe that he can’t (continue to play well into his thirties.)”
A big plus with Ellis is his current contract situation, with six years remaining on the eight-year deal he signed with the Predators in the summer of 2018.
“We like him a lot as a player, we like the cap hit, 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 that we now have to turn around and find a way to sign a contract in the next year or so. It brings some cost certainty, we can plug that number in over the next few years.”
When it comes to what the Flyers had to give up in order to add Ellis, Fletcher said that while they weren’t looking to move them, the prospect of adding Ellis was “too good to pass up.”
“Phil Myers is a young man who’s gonna be a real good defenseman in this league for a long time, and I still believe in Patty. Last year was a step forward for him in terms of his health, and getting back on the ice. Think the production will come, the confidence will come as he continues in his career. As you said, you have to give to get and we feel we have a lot of quality young players still in our system, a lot of quality prospects still in our system, and still have all of our draft picks. We’re going to need a lot of young assets to fill in, it is a flat cap era, and we feel comfortable with the quality and quantity of young players that we still have in our organization. The opportunity to add a player like Ryan is too good to pass up. He’s what we need at this time.”
Ellis looks to especially excel at moving the puck out of his team’s defensive zone, something that the Flyers struggled with last season.
“We acquired one of the premier defensemen in the National Hockey League, and a player that we feel fits the needs of our team quite well. In terms of his overall two-way game, his ability to move the puck, which is an area I thought we struggled in a lot last year. I think there was a lot of focus on the fact we didn't defend as well, but to me, we defended too much. If we move the puck cleaner and more quickly out of our defensive zone we won’t have to defend as much. Ryan is a good defender, but I think we’ll have the ability to transition the puck better and get up the ice. He’s a pretty elite defenseman in terms of the transition game.”
This is a great thing to hear from your team’s general manager. The best way to improve your team’s defense is not by adding a stay-at-home defenseman that tends to spend the majority of his shifts stuck in his own end, but by adding a defenseman that can allow your team to defend less. As Fletcher points out, Ellis is no slouch in the defensive zone, but his transition game is above and beyond most of the league. Ellis should be able to cut down the amount of time that the Flyers spend in their own zone, decreasing both scoring chances and goals against.
Looking forward, while the Flyers will be willing to move the 13th overall pick, they have no qualms about making the selection themselves.
“The 13th pick is a great commodity and we’re open to moving it in the right scenario and yet we’d also be very excited to take a player that falls to us there. There’s not a lot of benefits or redeeming factors from having the season we did, the only benefit you do get is a high pick. So, we certainly hope to maximize the value of that pick one way or the other. Do something so that we can avoid picking no. 13 for the foreseeable future.”
The Flyers are a better team now than they were this morning, and that’s a welcoming start to what looks to be a busy off-season not only in Philadelphia but around the league. Look for Ellis to have an immediate impact when the puck drops on the 2021-22 season.