When the Nashville Predators announced an eight-year, $50MM contract extension for Ryan Ellis earlier this week, the initial reaction by many was surprise at the relatively low cap hit. Ellis’s deal will carry an average annual value of just $6.25MM starting in 2019-20, putting him 21st in the league among defenders already signed through that season. He’s sure to drop at least a few more spots as contracts are signed by players like Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba and Jake Gardiner depending on what they eventually negotiate, and even more if youngsters like Zach Werenski or Charlie McAvoy get huge contracts coming out of their entry-level deals.
While Ellis isn’t among the absolute elite, he should likely be considered in the group just below that and could have earned more than $6.25MM in free agency next summer. We’d already seen offensive defensemen like John Carlson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson get upwards of $8MM per season, and even if he didn’t get to those heights a $7MM cap hit could’ve been expected. It seems like he knows that, but was more than willing to take a little less to stay in Nashville and compete for the Stanley Cup for a long time. Ellis spoke with Robby Stanley of NHL.com and explained his thought process in negotiating the reasonable cap hit.
I’m getting paid more than enough to play hockey, and I’m very excited to be able to do that for a long time. It was just about coming across a fair deal and what worked for both sides. We have other guys that need to be re-upped and need to be signed in the future, and I had to do my part to keep this thing going in the right direction. If we can keep everyone here and keep the core together, I think we can compete for a Stanley Cup for the next ten years at least.
Ellis has long been considered one of the key leaders in the Nashville locker room, and from comments like these you can easily see why. Though he certainly won’t be worried about money any time soon, taking even a little less in order for the team to stay competitive is not a common practice among professional athletes. As well it shouldn’t be, some would argue, given that every time someone gets the best deal he can it helps the entire group of players drive salaries upwards. Comparable contracts are used extensively in negotiations, and someone like Ellis settling for a little bit less actually could hurt the earning potential of another player. We’ve seen a similar thing happen with Connor McDavid settling for just $12.5MM per season instead of the $15MM maximum he likely could have demanded, making it basically impossible for any other player coming out of an entry-level deal to ask for that much. Auston Matthews, who could get a six figure salary on his next contract, potentially can’t ask for $12.5MM if he isn’t making the same contribution as McDavid, even though he likely could have if the Edmonton Oilers superstar had taken a bit more.
Still for Nashville, having a player take a little less is extremely important. We’ve seen the Predators work out team-friendly contracts in the past which has made their current salary structure more than manageable, but there are still big names to sign in the coming years. Captain Roman Josi is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency in 2020, and they’ll have to make a decision on Pekka Rinne’s future at some point in the next 10 months. Though they have Juuse Saros on one of those team-friendly contracts, it’s hard to just walk away from a perennial Vezina contender.
For Ellis, there is still plenty of money to go around in the contract and having the security of an eight-year extension makes it possible that he spends his entire career with one organization. Though GM David Poile doesn’t give out no-trade clauses, Ellis at least has the chance to play parts of 16 seasons with the Predators before needing a new contract. That’s a heck of a career for any player, especially one who many people doubted in the 2009 Entry Draft for being too small to handle defense in the NHL. Ellis rewarded the Predators with incredible play for a bargain basement price on his first multi-year extension, and now has taken at least a little bit less to stick around another eight years.