One of the biggest contracts signed this summer in the NHL was an eight-year $50MM extension handed out to Nashville Predators defenseman and associate captain Ryan Ellis. That contract was filed on August 14th, six weeks after Ellis originally became eligible to add some years on to his current situation. A deal for one of their most important players was obviously at the very top of the to-do list for GM David Poile and the rest of the Predators front office, but as Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic (subscription required) details there was a ton of work involved to come to the final agreement. Interestingly, LeBrun mentions the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers specifically when speaking about teams that were keeping a close eye on the Ellis situation, hoping it would deteriorate and he would be put on the trade market.
For the Maple Leafs, it’s easy to see why they would be interested. The Ontario-born Ellis was a superstar in the OHL before heading to Nashville, and his two-way skill from the right side would be a perfect complement to the Maple Leafs left-heavy defense group. With Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott locked into the left, if the Maple Leafs are going to improve the blue line—as so many believe they desperately need to do in order to contend—there aren’t many fits better than Ellis available. They would have to try to convince him to sign long-term, but some of the sticking points in Nashville like signing bonuses and trade protection haven’t been off the table so far with young GM Kyle Dubas.
The Oilers might need Ellis even more desperately though, after a wasted season near the bottom of the standings despite Connor McDavid’s outstanding play. When blue line members like Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson took a step backwards last season it was clear that McDavid couldn’t carry the load all by himself. Edmonton struggles at times to get the puck quickly out of their zone with any sort of control, something that Ellis excels at while also contributing offensively. They too have a need on the right side, and don’t have the cap space to acquire a very expensive asset. Ellis is earning just $2.5MM on the final year of his current contract, as one of the biggest bargains in the league.
That the Maple Leafs and Oilers were interested in Ellis—at least in passing—shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, though it does make the next few months even more interesting. With a player like Erik Karlsson still without an extension in Ottawa, and others like Tyler Myers and Nate Schmidt heading into their final years before free agency, the two teams will likely still be keeping an eye on various situations to see if they can improve.