Last fall the big question was: Who is this Dan Ellis guy?
This summer the question that most Nashville Predators fans have is: When will the Preds sign Dan Ellis?
Ellis, who came on strong as a goaltender at the end of last season and in the Stanley Cup playoffs, will become an unrestricted free agent July 1 if he is not signed by the Predators before the deadline. Ellis had played in one NHL game prior to joining the Predators and was considered to be a long shot to make the team out of training camp. Instead, he edged out Pekka Rinne for the No. 2 spot and then took over the top spot from Chris Mason as the season progressed.
“Dan is still under contract with us and is not a free agent until July 1,” said Michael Santos, director of hockey operations for the Predators. “He is not permitted to talk to other clubs and other clubs are not permitted to talk to him. So we have an exclusive period of time with him in which to negotiate and we are trying to take advantage of it.”
Ellis, 27, was given a chance to prove himself on the NHL level with the Predators. He posted a 23-10 record overall, a 2.34 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. In the playoffs against the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings, he was 2-4 with a 2.52 goals against average and a .938 save percentage.
“He was on the next boat to Europe to play last year until we gave him an opportunity,” Santos said. “We gave him the opportunity to come to camp and compete to make the team. Not a lot of teams will do that. They will sign you, but they won’t give you a fair opportunity to go and win a job, which he was given. And to his credit he won the job.”
Everyone in the Predators organization would agree that Ellis had a good year, but the biggest question is can he do it again.
“Dan had a good year,” Santos said. “But it wasn’t a good five years or 10 years. And it wasn’t a good career.
“I think both sides understand that. There is the potential that he could continue to be a really good goaltender in this league. But we can go through a number of positions, including goaltender, where players have a good year. It is time for him to follow it up and time for us to put a fair deal together to give him a chance to follow it up.”
Signing Ellis would mean that three is a crowd between the nets. Mason’s new contract begins this season. Rinne is eager, and most believe he is ready, to make the move to the NHL. None of the three could be reassigned to the Milwaukee Admirals, the Predators’ top farm club in the American Hockey League, without going through waivers.
“Dan was the goalie that received the nod at the end of the year and in the playoffs,” Santos said. “I know Dan respects that. I know that he enjoys it here. How they are treated by a team means a lot to a player. I never underestimate that.
“Players want to be part of a winner. That doesn’t just mean being on a winning team. That means contributing. Like all of the other players with Nashville I think he believes we are going to win.”