Flyers trade Phil Myers, Nolan Patrick for Ryan Ellis

Well, there’s your first big move on defense.

Just in time for the NHL trade freeze this afternoon, the Flyers have made a move to address their blue line like we knew they had to — and it’s a big one. The Flyers have acquired Ryan Ellis from the Nashville Predators in a three-way deal including Las Vegas, and will be giving up defenseman Philippe Myers and center Nolan Patrick to do so.

[UPDATE: The Flyers themselves have now announced the trade, about an hour after initial reports.]

Many more thoughts on this to come in the near future, but let’s do a quick rundown here:

Who is Ryan Ellis?

Ellis, 30, has spent his entire career with the Predators after being picked 11th overall in the 2009 NHL draft. He’s become a no-doubt top-4 option in that time, garnering a reputation as a player with a strong defensive presence while still being a guy who can help chip in offense (career 0.48 points per game). All of that, in a right-handed defenseman. He does come with injury concerns — three of his last four seasons have seen him miss a significant chunk of time — but when he’s on the ice he’s a difference-maker.

Ellis is two years into an eight-year, $50 million contract, and he’ll carry a $6.25 million cap hit through the 2026-27 season. He was considered a potential trade target for the Flyers dating back to last season, when our own Eamon Smith wrote a bit about why he made sense for the Flyers:

Ellis is everything Flyers fans want, sans physicality. He’s never going to be a guy who can truly lay the boom on other players, but that’s not his game anyways. The concerns surrounding Ellis is are pretty straightforward: his skating might not age well and he’s suffered numerous injuries in his career, including the current lower body issue that’s put him on the IR. Still, when healthy, Ellis has been an impact player and would be the best defender to lace up skates for the Orange & Black since Chris Pronger. Who doesn’t want a guy who can make plays like this happen with Nashville Predators legend Wayne Simmonds?

For a cost of two young players that both had and still have a fair amount of potential in the NHL but are coming off of pretty rough years, this seems like a risk worth taking for the Flyers. Ellis will be protected by the Flyers in next week’s expansion draft and immediately factors into their top-4, likely their top pair.

And what about what the Flyers gave up?

On the way out are two young players that we’re all very familiar with. Patrick, of course, was the Flyers’ prize for winning the 2017 NHL Draft lottery, and he had two decent-if-unspectacular post-draft seasons before missing the entire 2019-20 season due to migraines. Patrick returned to the ice for the 2020-21 season but was largely ineffective, putting up nine points in 52 games.

Myers was a diamond-in-the-rough find by Ron Hextall back in the 2015 offseason, when he signed the big defenseman from Rouyn-Noranda to an ELC after he went undrafted. His development more or less trended upward from that point up until he reached the NHL, and his first mostly-full NHL season (2019-20) was fairly encouraging though inconsistent, but he took a step back in 2020-21 and looked out of place far more often than you’d hope.

Both of these two guys still have a fair amount of potential. It’s not that difficult to see either of them turning into productive NHL players like the Flyers thought they were getting when they acquired them. But at the end of the day, you’re talking about two guys that are coming off of pretty rough seasons and have fairly uncertain futures ahead of them, and for them you’re acquiring a guy who fills the single-biggest need you had coming into the offseason. You make this trade every time.

What does this mean for the expansion draft and the rest of the offseason?

In terms of expansion, the changes aren’t entirely clear, particularly up front. On defense it’s fairly straightforward: Ellis will be protected in expansion, taking the spot we had all earmarked for Myers. In terms of forwards, it seems like either of Nicolas Aube-Kubel or James van Riemsdyk will get the spot that was going to Patrick. JVR is the better player, but we’ll see how willing the Flyers are to lose him in the name of getting some more cap flexibility.

As for the rest of the offseason? Well, Ellis for Myers adds $3.7 million in cap to the Flyers’ books, which feels acceptable in exchange for the team addressing its biggest need. The Flyers also still have their first-round pick, which should be on the table to address other needs either up front or on the blue line. We’ll have more thoughts in the near future on what this means for the Flyers as they try and make their way back into contention.

To close this out for now, let’s check in with our local Flyers/Predators correspondent for his thoughts on this trade.

Eamon’s thoughts on the trade:

As a Nashville fan, I’m stunned that David Poile failed to get something more in return for a player of this caliber. While the jettisoning of Viktor Arvidsson hinted at the beginning of the long-awaited teardown of this Predators roster, Ellis still seemed like a guy who the team wanted to hang on to barring an outstanding return. Everything about this trade screams that it was a panic move, but this is similar to what people said about the PK Subban trade to New Jersey a while ago as well. The Predators might know something about Ellis that we don’t, and it’s important to consider that.

With all that in mind, this is as close to a slam-dunk deal by Chuck Fletcher as you could expect. The Flyers acquired a top pair defender in a way that dealt nonexistent damage to their existing blue line; the fact that the team was able to sell two players coming off of horrible seasons for an asset of this level is astounding. At face value, this is a masterstroke by the front office and emblematic of what the fans needed from them this offseason. Even if the Flyers don’t make any more splashy moves, there’s something to be excited about heading into 2020-21.