Saturday’s trade for Ryan Ellis is already widely considered, by both Flyers fans and NHL fans in general, a slam dunk for Chuck Fletcher. In a pivotal offseason, Philadelphia successfully went out and acquired a top pair, right-handed defender with leadership capabilities, an excellent analytical and eye test acumen, and the ability to elevate Ivan Provorov’s play immediately. The price paid to do so was surprisingly low, with two assets at valleys in their value heading back the other way in Nolan Patrick and Phil Myers.
However, that said, there were two key risks in this trade for the Flyers: Ellis’s age and injury history. The former Nashville defender will turn 31 in January, marking him as a player well past his physical prime, and his aggressive style of play despite his size has exacerbated existing health concerns (Ellis has only played all 82 games in a season once). Coming off of a year where his play declined and he missed significant time (21 games) due to a reported shoulder injury, the risk of Ellis falling off in subsequent seasons was tangible.
Today’s press conference adjusted the evaluation of that scenario slightly when Ellis stated that he had never gotten shoulder surgery or had a serious shoulder injury in the past season, citing instead a hand injury (shattered knuckle) that lingered and kept him out. That now lists the major (10+ games missed) injuries that Ellis has suffered in the past five seasons as follows: a hand injury (2020-21), a concussion (from the infamous Corey Perry blindside hit in 2019-20), a knee injury (sustained in 2016-17, had surgery in the 2017 offseason, and missed 38 games of the 2017-2018 season while recovering). Ellis missed nine games in November/December of the 2016-17 season with an unknown injury, but the rest of his time on the injured list has usually been from multiple short stints.
What does that tell us? A few things. Firstly, there’s less reason to worry about Ellis being a player who misses 20+ games per year or declines rapidly due to injuries than previously thought. Out of the aforementioned incidents where he missed time, one can argue that the only seriously concerning occurrence was the knee injury in 2016-17 that lingered into the following season. However, considering that Ellis came back from that injury and had one of the best seasons of his career, any worry about that knee continuing to hamper him is minimal at most.
The other dimension here is that it makes his decline in play the past season slightly more concerning. While a hand injury is by no means easy to play through and we don’t know the full extent of Ellis’s injury situation in the time he missed last year, it’s a bit more difficult to dismiss his rougher impact last year when you can’t chalk it up to him rushing back from a serious shoulder problem. Again, let me emphasize: I am not Ryan Ellis, and I do not know how having a busted knuckle affected his play. I’m simply looking at historical precedent for performance impact following hand injuries versus shoulder issues. Coming back from any injury prematurely can seriously affect one’s play, but there’s a reason shoulder surgeries are widely considered to be more worrisome (just look at how Vladimir Tarasenko’s value has been impacted).
It’s impossible to use this new information to predict how Ellis will next year, but the bottom line is that he’s happy, healthy, and ready to play hard in Philadelphia. Here’s hoping everything works out, for both him and the Orange & Black as a whole.