Why Scratch Ellis? Comparing Predators Defensemen

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 07: Ryan Ellis #49 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates Shea Weber #6 and Ryan Suter #20 on scoring his first career NHL goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Bridgestone Arena on January 7, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Why scratch Ryan Ellis? Only a game removed from his 2 point performance against Chicago, it seems like a valid question. Assuming Weber, Suter, Klein, and now Gill are safe, what does Roman Josi (9 points, but -10) and Francis Bouillon (7 points in twice as many games), have over Ryan Ellis' 9 points and +8 rating?

Only half the stats tell half the tale, though. Let's look a little deeper at the Preds defenseman. I created this sortable table to compare each player's 5-on-5 performance:

Qualcomp Name Corsi Zone Start
1 Weber +13 44.7%
2 Suter +8 46.7%
3 Klein -9 41.1%
4 Bouillon -2 46.6%
5 Josi -15 42.7%
6 Blum -8 44.4%
7 Hillen -3 49.0%
8 Ellis +16 64.6%

By default, the table is sorted by quality of competition, in which Ellis ranks dead last. Trotz never uses Ellis against top lines, if he can help it. Another measure of strength of minutes is zone starts, or the percentage of times the player starts his shift in the offensive zone versus defensive zone. Here, Trotz has found another way of protecting Ellis, sending him out whenever the Preds get a whistle in the offensive zone.

Roman Josi, by contrast, has faced some of toughest minutes (42.7% zone starts). And their results reflect that difference. Josi is -10 on the season, because he does much of the team's defensive heavy lifting, along with Klein, Weber, and Suter. Ryan Ellis is +8 because he's used like a power play specialist, even at even-strength.

Should Ellis be punished for making the most of the opportunities given to him? That's a trickier question and one we debated with Cody Franson/Kevin Klein. But if Franson's time with the Predators taught us anything, if Trotz doesn't trust the player with a greater role, there's a reason, and he won't change his mind in the middle of a stretch run.

Carrying a power play specialist would have been defensible on past Predators teams, but this year Weber, Suter, and Josi have all been excellent on the man-up. And the acquisition of Gill for the PK frees up Weber and Suter for more PP minutes. Given that Trotz trusts Josi and Bouillon to help carry the load at even strength, scratching Ellis works to the benefit of everyone.

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