One of the biggest extensions expected this summer has finally dropped, as the Nashville Predators today announced an eight-year, $50MM ($6.25MM AAV) contract extension for Ryan Ellis. The deal will kick in for the 2019-20 season, and keep Ellis in Nashville through the 2026-27 season. Ellis is currently carrying just a $2.5MM cap hit on the final year of his contract. The deal does not include any trade protection, meaning Pekka Rinne remains the only Predators player with a contract that includes a no-move or no-trade clause. GM David Poile released a statement explaining the contract:
Ryan is a huge part of our team on and off the ice and we are happy to have his leadership remain in our locker room for the foreseeable future. We have talked about wanting to keep the core of our team together, and this is another opportunity to help us do so while continuing to compete for a Stanley Cup. Ryan is entering his prime and is one of the reasons why we feel this team has a chance to win every time we step on the ice.
Ellis, 27, was scheduled to be one of the biggest unrestricted free agents on the market next offseason, though there was little doubt something would be worked out with Nashville at some point. The two sides had been open with their mutual interest, and this deal gives both what they were after. For Ellis, it potentially gives him the opportunity to play his entire career in Nashville after the team took a chance on him with the 11th-overall selection in 2009. At the time, undersized defensemen were not as accepted as they are today and it was obvious by some of the names taken ahead of him. Luke Schenn and Jared Cowen both ended up as top-10 picks, mostly for their size and defensive capabilities. Even Victor Hedman (2nd overall) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (6th overall) are big enough to fulfill the height restrictions, though the offensive upside of both made them such attractive commodities. Ellis, who stands just 5’10”, was seen as a risk even despite his obvious offensive gifts and defensive potential.
That potential has paid off, and though Ellis is still regarded as an excellent offensive player it is his all-around ability that makes him so valuable. Equally capable on the powerplay and penalty kill, the former Windsor Spitfire recorded 32 points in just 44 games in 2017-18 after returning from injury and logged huge minutes for the Predators in the playoffs once again. Though he won’t begin the extension until well after his 28th birthday, he secures the Predators’ blue line as one of the best in the league for years to come.
There was more money to be made, at least on a per-year basis on the open market to be sure. A similarly aged John Carlson just received an eight-year $64MM contract from the Washington Capitals given his proximity to unrestricted free agency, and some would argue that Ellis is an even more effective player. At the very worst he’s in the same range and could have demanded at least $7MM per season, but decided to stick with the Predators long-term and keep contending for the Stanley Cup. Ryan McDonagh too recently received an extension that carries a higher cap hit, in fact according to CapFriendly the closest comparables to the Ellis contract are Cam Fowler, Erik Johnson and Johnny Boychuk. While all three are effective players, Nashville will be happy to keep one of their leaders in the room for a respectable number.
The fact that there is no trade protection shouldn’t come as a surprise, and it also shouldn’t signal that the Predators will look to move Ellis down the road. Poile is staunchly against including no-movement clauses, and has avoided giving them out in other huge extensions for players like Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris. Ellis will earn a $7MM signing bonus on July 1st, 2019, giving him a good portion of money up front.
The Predators now have their elite four defensemen locked up for the next two years at least, with Roman Josi next on the block for an extension. His contract expires in the summer of 2020, at which point he’ll be 30 years old. Amazingly, Nashville is set up to have more than enough room to give him a heft raise from the $4MM he currently earns, meaning this group could stay together for some time. Mattias Ekholm, now the extremely underpaid member of the group, carries a $3.75MM hit for four more seasons.
This deal does carry some risk, as Ellis could deteriorate or decline in the latter portion of the contract. By then though the salary cap will have inflated and the Predators will likely have already received plenty of excess value. If he struggles to maintain his current play this season though, handing out an extension at this point could look like a huge mistake. There is pressure on the 27-year old defenseman to perform, but he’s never seemed to back away from the spotlight in the past.