Dan Ellis got back on the ice this week, as he always does in early- to mid-July, to begin preparing for next season with goalie-specific skating and drills.
The difference this year is Ellis did so without an NHL contract.
Despite missing almost all of last season after trying unsuccessfully to play through a groin injury that ultimately saw his adductor muscle tear right off the bone, Ellis should still to be at or near the top of an otherwise thin list of goaltenders still available on the unrestricted free agent market. Since joining Anaheim at the 2011 trade deadline two seasons ago, Ellis posted a .917 save percentage to end that first season with the Ducks, and a .911 last season despite only playing one game completely healthy.
So why is Ellis still without an NHL job?
It might have to do with the season lost to injury, which also resulted in abdominal surgery in February, though he did manage to battle back onto the ice, and almost into a game, as the season wound down. Ellis also says he’s healthier now than before surgery. More likely it has to do with a goaltending market waiting on the Vancouver Canucks to trade Roberto Luongo.
“Luongo seems to be the goalie that is kind of in charge in the goalie market right now,” Ellis said Thursday from his summer home in Omaha. “Depending on where he lands, by the sounds of different things in the media, there are certain teams that are looking for goalies. … There were a handful of jobs out there and there were a handful of goalies to fill them and right now I think we’re in a position where things are in a little bit of a holding pattern, things are waiting to shift again.”
Ellis, who has had conversations with some teams, sounded content to wait for that market to settle itself. Knowing he’s healthy again makes it easier, even if other teams have questions after he only played 10 games last season in Anaheim.
“In January my adductor longus tore right off the bone in practice as I was sliding across on a two on one,” Ellis said. “I’d been battling a groin injury for two months, I was just trying to push through it, push through the pain and take some medicine for the inflammation or the pain, just to battle through so I could help my team out and eventually it just gave way and snapped off. So about eight weeks later they figured out that there was a tear in my abs as well, so they ended up repairing the abdominal. And then ended up I made it back for that last week, on the bench and practicing with the team, but we just ran out of time to get back into a game.”
That led to questions about his health from teams early in free agency.
Ellis answers by saying he’s better than ever.
“Right now I feel I am stronger than I was before the surgery,” Ellis said. “One good thing about it is when you injure a groin it forces you to work on those groins, work on your core, and so I feel much stronger now than I did before the injury because before an injury like this you’re working on your quads, you’re not as focused on strengthening those small muscles that not only stabilize you but bring your legs inwards. A lot of times you’re working on pushing and power muscles like your quads, your hamstrings, and glutes. Having an injury like this forces you to work on every area and strengthen your entire body so when you work on your adductors a lot more it gives you better squeezes. It gives you better range of motion, better control and so, honestly, this injury has almost been a blessing in the fact that I’ve actually been able to get stronger than I was before and being in a better position where your injury prevention is a million times better than it ever was.”
As for the games he did play last season, every goalie knows there’s few things worse than a groin problem. Ellis, who finished 1-5-0 despite the .911 save percentage, was essentially reduced to a butterfly goalie with an artificially opened 5-hole.
“Basically it prevented me from squeezing my legs together that final three to four inches,” he said. “I couldn’t get a nice tight butterfly and it was tough to bring your legs back in when you’re fully extended, so there was a lot of trying to adjust your game to adjust your style so that you could work through it.”
Ellis is healthy now and working with his goalie coach Corey Wogtech, of W Goaltending, in Omaha, where the Saskatchewan native settled for good after four years at the University of Omaha-Nebraska. And while he waits for the goaltending market to reshuffle, the five-year NHL veteran was kind enough to offer to take InGoal reader questions on goaltending.
If you’d like to ask Dan a question, please submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll take a selection to him for publication next week.