July 1st may have been the best Canada Day ever in Toronto! John Tavares came home and took a bit of a discount to do so, although I’m not sure 11 million dollars is much of one. Still though, Maple Leafs’ faithful are probably jumping for joy in the streets as news broke of them signing the most sought-after free agent ever.
Free agency was quite eventful and there are still a lot of contracts left to be signed and questions to be answered. The biggest one, in my mind, is how does this affect Ryan Ellis and his next contract? Some big-name defensemen were signed and re-signed today, but few are comparable. Guys like John Moore and Ian Cole are certainly not up to Ellis’ level, but Ryan McDonagh’s and John Carlson’s new deals could be the proposed “ballpark” for Ellis’ next contract.
Carlson just signed a lucrative new deal for eight million dollars a season over the next eight years. Winning the Stanley Cup certainly up-ed his dollar amount but I don’t think anyone would’ve been surprised to see him make that much on the open market. The American defenseman had his best season so far with 15 goals and 53 assists for 68 points in 82 games, although only 31 of those points came at five on five. Also, Carlson was pretty lucky as his team shot at 9% at five on five and 12% in all situations with Carlson on the ice. Let’s take a closer look at Carlson and how he stands up to Ellis. To do this, we’ll take a look at some basic advanced (oxymoron) stats, all at five on five.
At a quick glance it looks like Ellis blows Carlson out of the water, but upon further review it’s noticeable that Carlson was seeing tougher zone starts and tougher competition. Ellis often started in the offensive zone with the primary duty of scoring while Carlson’s usage was more spread out and he often saw the best of his opposition. Also, the Predators had better numbers as a team, and while both players are better relative to their teams, Ellis is still the better player in terms of stats presented.
While the advanced stats gave us a glimpse into who these players are, let’s go a bit more in-depth to see just how involved each player is. Huge thanks to CJ Turtoro and Corey Sznajder for the wonderful charts!
Ellis is a better offensive player than Carlson at five on five, but we already knew that. The chart does a good job to confirm it but I’m interested in what’s below it. Carlson has better, but comparable offensive zone entry numbers to Ellis, but his zone exit numbers are where Carlson starts to pull away. He’s 23 percentiles better than Ellis in possession exits per 60 while being 10 percentiles better than Ellis in possession exit percentage. There’s a reason for this though, Ellis heavily relies on Roman Josi to carry the puck out of the zone. It becomes almost abundantly clear when watching a game after seeing the stats. My favorite part about all of it is that Ellis isn’t even bad at zone exits, he just defers to the safest option.
Zone entry defense is where Carlson truly separates himself from Ellis. Carlson didn’t have as many breakups per 60 as Ellis did, but he was much more efficient in not allowing possession entries. So good that he was in the top five percentile in the NHL, while only being a little worse when it came to percentage of possession entries allowed. That means that he was so good at standing people up at the blueline that the opposition was often forced to dump the puck in, a strategy not used too often in today’s NHL. Not only was Carlson in the top 15 percentiles for the last two stats, but he was miles ahead of Ellis.
What’s even more hilarious is where these players rank relative to their teammates. The Predators were so mediocre defensively that Ellis was ranked in the 66th percentile for shot suppression per 60 relative to his teammates while Carlson was only ranked in the 22nd percentile. That’s an interesting numerical comparison when contrasted to the numbers we looked at above.
All in all, I think it’s somewhat close but Carlson is definitely better than Ellis.
If you want comparables, look no further than their two first names! On a more serious note, this deal kind of came out of nowhere as many experts expected McDonagh to be a cap casualty so that the Lightning could re-sign both Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy. The contract begins after next season and is worth 6.75 million dollars per year over seven years. McDonagh had a decent year with four goals and 25 assists for 29 points in 63 games this season, with 15 points coming at five on five. Let’s go back to the five on five advanced stats for a quick comparison. Disclaimer: McDonagh played over 50% of his games with the New York Rangers, who were pretty bad all season. His stats below are the combined numbers of his time between New York and Tampa.
Once again, Ellis dwarfs McDonagh in terms of possession stats, but McDonagh wasn’t too far below average. His high danger share is extremely impressive after looking at how rarely he was started in the offensive zone. McDonagh made his money as a defensive specialist who could contribute in all three zones, quite a different role than what Ellis play. I’m not saying either is bad, but both excel in different zones. Once again, let’s take a deeper look.
McDonagh isn’t as offensively talented as Carlson, and nowhere is that more evident than here. But what he lacks in offense, McDonagh more than makes up for in defense. His zone exit and entry defense numbers are in the top 30 percentile of the league. The biggest surprise to me was McDonagh’s zone entry numbers, which are elite in every way. He’s even better than Ellis and is comparable to Josi in this regard. It’s a little funny though to see how good he is at entering the zone, but not necessarily that great once he’s in the zone. I like McDonagh and what he brings to the table, but I think that Ellis’ offensive contributions bring something to the table that McDonagh can’t match.
Why Won’t Ellis Sign Already?
Next year’s free agent class features the best defensive corp the NHL has ever seen. The big headliners were/are Oliver Ekman-Larson, Drew Doughty, and Erik Karlsson. OEL was recently signed for eight years with 8.25 million per year, Doughty just inked an eight-year deal for 11 million per season, and Karlsson won’t likely sign till he’s traded away from Ottawa. I believe he’ll likely make the most of the three though. So why won’t Ellis sign already? The real question is, why would he? His value has skyrocketed in the past two years and it’ll only continue to rise as the cap increases and big-name defensemen see pay raises.
A week ago I thought Ellis would most likely get a deal between 6 and 6.5 million per year, but now I think it’ll likely be between 6.75 and 7.5. Especially if he hits the open market. The question I keep coming back to is, is it worth it? Should the Predators trade an asset at the absolute top of its value, or hold out hope that Ellis will once AGAIN take another hometown discount? I don’t know the answer, and I doubt that anyone truly does. There are a million other factors involved including Dante Fabbro’s, Frederic Allard’s, and Alexandre Carrier’s development, but the good news is that there’s time.
The Predators have time to figure things out, but if I’m Ellis’ agent, I’m looking at McDonagh’s deal as an almost exact comparable. Ellis seems to like playing in Nashville and could accept less money to play here, but I doubt he goes .5 million under other offers due to that he just completed his “sweetheart” deal. I love Ellis but is he worth it at over 6 million dollars per year? Is it worth it to have around 22 million dollars in cap space locked up in four defensemen, assuming Ellis signs for 6 million dollars? That’s currently worth 29.67% of the cap, and 26.51% of next year’s cap, assuming it rises the same amount it did this season.
So I’ll leave you with this, what exactly is Ellis worth? What is Ellis worth when you consider that Eeli Tolvanen, Kevin Fiala, Roman Josi, and Juuse Saros all need new deals in the next few years? There’s no right or wrong answer, but the future isn’t exactly clear for the Nashville Predators.