VOORHEES, N.J. — Ryan Ellis is the type of player Philly would love.
His motor matches his talent. His skill doesn't trump his tenacity. He even misses being punched in the face.
This all-situation, win-at-all-costs defenseman is a guy the city would wrap its arms around.
But he hasn't been out there, not seen in a game for over six months. The city has hardly had the chance to reach out its arms.
For Ellis, his first season with the Flyers was mostly behind the curtains, away from the ice and the fans.
On Saturday, at his end-of-the-season press conference, Ellis felt closer.
He at least had clarity. His intentions fueled by some long-desired optimism.
"I want to play here, I want to be a part of the solution here, I think I can really help out this team," Ellis said. "My family loves it here, my kids love it here, we’ve found a great school. If I was playing, this would be Heaven for me. The only reason it’s not is because I’m not playing."
The 31-year-old missed all but four games of the Flyers' 2021-22 season to forget, one of the worst years in franchise history. Ellis was the Flyers' prized addition last summer. General manager Chuck Fletcher kicked off his offseason by trading for Ellis in July and addressing his club's most glaring hole from a letdown season prior.
But a complex and befuddling lower-body injury wreaked havoc on Ellis' first season with his new club. The year was pretty much wiped out. Ellis called it the hardest year of his life.
"I can't say I’ve been through anything harder," he said.
After months of questions and appointments, Ellis said he and the Flyers have identified the roots of his injury. He classified the persistently nagging issue as a "multilayered problem" in the "the complex of the whole pelvic region." In a source of relief for the top-pair defenseman, there's now a clear rehab plan in place and Ellis said the goal is to be healthy for training camp in September.
“That’s one thing we’ve narrowed down," Ellis said. "We have a plan in place, it took a long time 1) to figure out what was going on and 2) how to embark on that plan. And we have a plan. I’m very happy and comfortable — me and the management, everyone’s on the same page.
"It’s hard to pinpoint everything. Really excited that, more or less, I’ve found out what’s going on. We have a plan. I’m excited, first time in a while, to embark on that plan.
"It wasn’t just a one thing fix all. That was the problem, trying to figure out what was going on. It had multiple levels of what the problem was. We have a plan, everyone’s very comfortable and happy with the plan. I’m excited to be ready for training camp. It’s going to be a long summer trying to get through it all, but I’m excited.”
Surgery is not needed.
“It’s multilayered, but surgery at the moment is not part of the equation," Ellis said.
“It’s treatments, it’s corrections, healthier tissue, healthier everything really. Then a lot of workouts and therapy in that sense.
“In the next month or so, I plan to start getting more and more active in the gym. Obviously skating’s my job, so I wouldn’t doubt a couple of weeks later, get on the ice, get moving again. I think it’s just a process that needs to unfold. Because I haven’t skated much, it would be nice to start skating immediately. But there’s all progressions in there. Ramp it up in July, August and then get going for camp.”
Ellis sustained the injury in the Flyers' preseason finale Oct. 8. Back in September, he said it was an injury he had never dealt with before. Ellis was able to play in the Flyers' first three games before realizing he had to come out. After missing nine games, he suffered a reinjury in his return to the lineup Nov. 13.
It turned out to be his last game of the season.
Ellis admitted to probably rushing back for that fourth game, which likely made "everything worse."
"Ultimately when the first couple of things didn’t work, it was, ‘Well, what is it then?’" Ellis said. "That’s where all the questions became I need to find out what’s going on. We’ve figured it out and now I’m excited to do it.
“I think that’s part of the whole reason it took forever. Not that it’s rare, but it hasn’t been really a problem before in a lot of people. I think that’s part of the reason it took so long to figure out what was going and then to make a plan on how to fix it. I haven’t spoken to anyone with the same sort of thing. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about a lot of different things with various injuries or things they’ve had, but no one’s ever said, ‘Oh, yeah, that happened to me, too.’ That’s part of the reason it has taken so long.”
How many opinions did they have to seek out?
“Multiple MRIs, multiple doctors, multiple different ... I guess you’d call them practitioners. Endless I guess," Ellis said. "It was just a long year, to be honest, in every capacity. Just being around the guys became tough because I can’t play, I can’t help, I can’t do.
"Once I stopped and then once a couple of other players were hurt, it became even harder watching the team struggle when I can’t do anything about it. I think any athlete that watches their friends and their peers struggle and not being able to do something about it makes it even tougher mentally."
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Ellis' injury was one of many that did damage to the Flyers' aspirations of rebounding from their underachieving 2020-21 season. This season, the Flyers took an even bigger step backward, finishing 25-46-11, firing their head coach Alain Vigneault in December and trading their longtime captain Claude Giroux in March.
Kevin Hayes was one of the many key players to deal with injury problems. Stemming back to last summer, he had to go through three core muscle procedures before finally feeling like himself again in March.
He sympathizes with Ellis' situation.
"I don't want to speak for him, but he's been traveling a lot trying to figure what's going on. I feel for him," Hayes said. "I had, I don't want to say a similar situation, but I was dealing with I guess — it's not he same type of injury, but an injury. It's tough. When you get paid a lot of money and you're supposed to be a big part of the team but you can't play, it's depressing. It sucks. All you want to do is help the team win, show the organization, the coaches, the fans that you're worth what they're paying you.
"He's been trying to figure what's going on. I'm sure he's eager to get healthy. Everyone that's injured wants to get healthy and help their team win. Playing in the NHL, it's nice that you get paid some money, but it's the best job in the world. You don't want to be the guy who's injured collecting paychecks."
James van Riemsdyk, who was the lone Flyer to play in all 82 games this season, echoed Hayes' sentiment.
"I definitely feel bad for him, it's a frustrating thing when obviously he's excited to come and leave an impression on a new organization and could never really find his footing as far as just the health stuff, trying to find out the best course of action to take for that," van Riemsdyk said of Ellis. "So I know he's frustrated that maybe it's been a process as far as definitely taking some time for him to kind of go through some things to really try to get to the bottom of the issues that he's having. I definitely respect the fact that he's going about it in a way that, for the long term, for his health and a career, it's going be a good thing with the approach that he's taking for that."
Ellis is under contract for the next five seasons with an annual cap hit of $6.250 million on a deal he originally signed with the Predators in the summer of 2018. The righty-shot, puck-moving defenseman played 10 accomplished years in Nashville.
He also had an injury history. Ellis missed a month in 2020-21 because of an upper-body injury that required surgery and was limited to 44 games in 2017-18 because of knee surgery. Then again, he has displayed durability in other seasons and through playoff pushes. He has played 71 or more games in a season four times, including all 82 in 2018-19.
Ellis wants to show a city like Philadelphia what his game is all about and the reasons why the Flyers brought him on board.
“That’s it exactly. I obviously just want to play hockey again is the main thing," Ellis said. "Get back on the ice, score a goal, shoot, block a shot, whatever it is. To be honest, it’s kind of sad, but I miss getting hit with a puck and it hurting, and coming off and being like, ‘I think I hurt my foot or I need an ice bag.’ Even like the scrums in front of the net, getting punched in the face. You don’t do that after doing it forever, it’s sad, but I miss it.
"This year was the most excited I’ve been for hockey — new team, new city, new fans, new building, you name it. Everything was new and exciting. Our team had unbelievable upside to it all. I think with the amount of injuries and whatnot, obviously it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.
"I want to play here, I want to be here. I came in very excited. I’m still just as excited. The big thing is I need to play and I want to play. My whole life has been built around playing hockey. That got taken away from me. It’s been draining I guess, but with the plan we have and the steps we’re going to take in order to get back ready for next year, I haven’t been this excited in months because I finally have an approach and a path clear to go."
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