Cage Match: Ryan Ellis vs. Michael Stone

by Rick Roos on January 13, 2016

Cage Match: Taking a deep look at defensemen Ryan Ellis and Michael Stone. Which one is really the better fantasy own?

 

For fantasy hockey, the difference between a 30+ point defenseman and a 35+ point d-man doesn’t sound significant, until you see there were 53 who scored 30+ points last season, but only 39 who tallied 35+. With that in mind, our match pits Ryan Ellis against Michael Stone. Which of these 25 year old rearguards gives your fantasy team a more realistic shot for 35+ points by the end of 2015-16, and does either one project to be a 40+ point rearguard in the future? Time to find out – Cage Match starts now!

 

Career Path and Contract Status/Cap Implications

Ellis was another in a string of Nashville first round defenseman draft picks, tabbed by the Preds 11th overall in 2009. After two dominating OHL seasons (162 points in 106 games), plus better than point per game output over the course of three WJCs, Ellis made his pro debut in 2011-12. But after posting 11 points in 32 games, his output dropped by nearly half (to just six points) in the same number of contests for 2012-13.

Nevertheless, by 2013-14 Ellis was manning the blueline full time for the Preds, and saw his production increase to a respectable 27 points in 80 games. Although Ellis only managed to take the ice for 58 contests last season, he still managed to equal that 27 point output. Factoring in his impressive 2014-15 output, plus his 17 points in 39 games for 2015-16 prior to the Seth Jones trade, Ellis had been scoring at a 37 point full season pace over a stretch of nearly 100 games (44 points in 97 games).

Stone, older brother of Senators forward Mark Stone, was drafted (69th overall) a year earlier than Ellis but also made his debut in 2011-12, in his case following just under point per game production in his last two WHL campaigns. Similar to Ellis, Stone didn’t see improvement in 2012-13 but produced okay in 2013-14 (21 points in 70 games). Unlike Ellis, Stone seemingly took a step backwards last season, tallying three fewer points despite playing in 11 additional games. This season, however, Stone looks to be taking a leap, having already nearly equaled his scoring output from last year.

Per Cap Friendly, both players are bargains, especially Stone, whose contract counts just $1.15M against the cap (versus Ellis’ $2.5M). The difference is Stone’s deal ends after this season, when he’ll be an RFA, whereas Ellis’ contract runs through 2018-19, leaving him a UFA at its conclusion.

Ice Time

Season

Total Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen)

PP Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen)

SH Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen

2015-16

19:56 (R.E.) – 3rd

22:06 (M.S.) – 2nd

2:13 (R.E.) – 4th

2:26 (M.S.) – 2nd

0:55 (R.E.) – 6th

1:47 (M.S.) – 6th

2014-15

18:58 (R.E.) – 5th

20:52 (M.S.) – 4th

2:11 (R.E.) – 3rd (tied)

1:06 (M.S.) – 4th

0:39 (R.E.) – 7th

1:41 (M.S.) – 7th

2013-14

16:04 (R.E.) – 7th

18:12 (M.S.) – 5th

1:45 (R.E.) – 4th

1:16 (M.S.) – 4th

0:04 (R.E.) – 8th

1:30 (M.S.) – 8th

2012-13

16:22 (R.E.) – 6th

16:41 (M.S.) – 7th

1:58 (R.E.) – 3rd

1:05 (M.S.) – 6th

0:03 (R.E.) – 8th

1:14 (M.S.) – 7th

 

Both have seen big jumps in Total Ice Time, with each now getting roughly four more minutes per game as compared to as recently as 2013-14. In Stone’s case, this has beneficially come with nearly doubled PP Ice Time per game since 2013-14 and virtually no added SH Ice Time, while compared to 2013-14 Ellis has received nearly double the added SH Ice Time per game versus added PP Ice Time. In the two games since the Jones trade, Ellis’ Total Ice Time per gameincreased by more than two minutes; however, his undesired SH Ice Time doubled, while his PP Ice Time was essentially unchanged.

 

Although the departure of Seth Jones won’t hurt Ellis, especially since Jones had overtaken Ellis in PP Ice Time per game, it most likely won’t help either. The main issue is Ellis is essentially locked out of Nashville’s PP1, which is (and, barring injury or a very unlikely additional trade, projects to remain) the exclusive domain of Shea Weber and/or Roman Josi. In contrast, since Keith Yandle was dealt, Stone has made appearances on Arizona’s PP1, although usually the Coyotes still opt to deploy a four forward first unit that features Oliver Ekman-Larsson as the lone d-man.

 

Despite these circumstances, Ellis has produced more than Stone over the past two seasons. But due to the elite status of Weber and Josi, and despite the fact that Jones was dealt, the reality is Ellis might be at (or even above) his realistic points ceiling. After all, in the team’s history the top point total for a third highest scoring d-man in a single season is 38, back in 2005-06. Beyond that one season, there’s never been an instance where three of its d-men tallied 35+ points in the same season.

 

Stone’s story checks out more so than Ellis’, due to Stone getting top pairing minutes and getting chances onArizona’s PP1. Plus, there’s hope for still better production, since there’s a realistic chance of Stone receiving still more PP Ice Time down the road, which, as noted, is an all but an impossibility with Ellis given the presence of Weber and Josi, not to mention Mattias Ekholm, who, since the Jones deal, has seen more than 2:00 of PP Ice Time per game, up from not even 20 seconds prior to the trade.

 

Additionally, although Arizona has 13 of the top 180 forward prospects according to DobberHockey, it has none among the top 35 rearguard prospects. That’s a win-win for Stone, as it will create offense for the team, but not jeopardize Stone’s top four spot. Incidentally, Nashville only has eight of the top 180 forwards in the same ranking, with only one in the top 40 (versus five for Arizona).

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIM

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2015-16

0.48 (R.E.)

0.73 (M.S.)

0.75 (R.E.)

1.78 (M.S.)

1.14 (R.E.)

1.73 (M.S.)

2.02 (R.E.)

2.09 (M.S.)

0.09 (R.E.)

0.17 (M.S.)

2014-15

0.46 (R.E.)

0.74 (M.S.)

0.70 (R.E.)

2.49 (M.S.)

1.27 (R.E.)

2.33 (M.S.)

2.03 (R.E.)

1.77 (M.S.)

0.10 (R.E.)

0.06 (M.S.)

2013-14

0.30 (R.E.)

0.54 (M.S.)

0.71 (R.E.)

2.18 (M.S.)

1.21 (R.E.)

1.63 (M.S.)

1.53 (R.E.)

1.50 (M.S.)

0.07 (R.E.)

0.08 (M.S.)

2012-13

0.47 (R.E.)

0.40 (M.S.)

0.68 (R.E.)

2.22 (M.S.)

0.90 (R.E.)

1.60 (M.S.)

1.50 (R.E.)

1.25 (M.S.)

0.06 (R.E.)

0.05 (M.S.)

 

This data should not come as a surprise to poolies in multi-cat leagues, where Stone has been a known commodity for several seasons. Rightfully so, as his combination of Hits, Blocked Shots and PIM have been valuable even in the face of his previously more modest production. But now that Stone is inching into 30-35+ point territory, he becomes more coveted even if – as it appears – his Hits and Blocked Shots are dropping slightly. Just how rare is Stone’s combination of multi-cat production? This season the only defenseman who, like Stone, is averaging at least 1.7+ Hits, 1.7+ Blocked Shots, 0.70+ PIM and 2+ SOG per game, but who also has outscored Stone, is Kris Letang. That’s it – just Letang.

 

Ellis does not hold a candle to Stone in these areas, except in SOG. That’s not to say Ellis is a drag in these categories. In fact, his roughly 0.50 PIM per game plus nearly two combined Hits + Blocked Shots per contest are average or even slightly above average for 30+ point defensemen. But his PP scoring is woeful. While that can be excused by the reality that he gets PP2 time, he still should be able to produce somewhat better than he has with the man advantage.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

Stone didn’t play the necessary 50+ minutes at 5×4 in 2012-13, which means his 5×4 IPP is listed as “N/A” for that campaign.

Season

PDO/SPSV (5×5)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)

2015-16

992 (R.E.)

1012 (M.S.)

51.7% (R.E.)

47.7% (M.S.)

39.3% (R.E.)

25.9% (M.S.)

80.0% (R.E.)

71.4% (M.S.)

2014-15

1001 (R.E.)

971 (M.S.)

55.7% (R.E.)

53.7% (M.S.)

47.7% (R.E.)

34.3% (M.S.)

83.3% (R.E.)

36.4% (M.S.)

2013-14

1012 (R.E.)

992 (M.S.)

53.2% (R.E.)

54.8% (M.S.)

37.3% (R.E.)

35.1% (M.S.)

46.2% (R.E.)

70.0% (M.S.)

2012-13

975 (R.E.)

1006 (M.S.)

49.8% (R.E.)

45.7% (M.S.)

25.0% (R.E.)

27.3% (M.S.)

50.0% (R.E.)

N/A (M.S.)

 

For Ellis, his 5×5 IPPs are reasonable; and although his 5×4 IPPs for this season and last are quite high, my take is that has a lot to do with lack of scoring on Nashville’s PP2. It might be that Ellis is quite adept with the man advantage, and, in turn, his low PPP per game mainly stemmed from the inability of the Preds forwards with whom he shares the ice at 5×4 to actually score, which also causes Ellis’ 5×4 IPP to rise. With Nashville’s addition of Ryan Johansen, Nashville’s PP2 gets better, as although Johansen isn’t being featured on it that still means a more skilled forward has been bumped from PP1 to PP2, helping Ellis in the process.

 

Stone’s increased production in 2015-16 looks legitimate. Not only is there precedent for his 5×4 IPP that he’s seeing now, but his added scoring is occurring despite a low OZ% and 5×5 IPP. Stone’s OZ% will need to be watched, however, since if it dips below 45%, then he’s unlikely to ultimately become a 40+ point d-man, as last season only one rearguard (T.J. Brodie) topped 40 points despite having an OZ% below 45.0%. But as noted above, Arizona has many young offensively talented forwards already on the team or poised to debut within the next few years. Once that happens, the club should begin to fare better, raising the OZ% and production of its players in the process. In short, the rising tide of the Coyotes should raise the boats of all its players, Stone included.

 

Who Wins?

 

First and foremost, Stone wins in a landslide for multi-cat leagues. But this match was mainly about points-only leagues, so let’s focus on that.

 

Until last week, Ellis was a tantalizing fantasy d-man. After all, he’d scored at just under a 40-point pace for nearly 100 games despite being firmly behind Weber and Josi in the depth chart at EV and on the PP, plus Jones when it came to PP Ice Time.

 

Fast forward to now, and Jones is gone. But it’s not time for poolies who own Ellis to celebrate. If anything, this creates false hope, since Ellis’ situation has not realistically improved, except in a very minor way by Johansen widening the talent pool among Nashville forwards, which will have a small – if any – ripple effect that’s felt on the team’s PP2, where Ellis is stuck. Additionally, there’s the reality that only once in the team’s nearly 20 year history has Nashville had more than two d-men score 35 points in the same season; and even then, it was just 38 points and occurred 10 seasons ago.

 

If you own Ellis, you should seriously consider selling now, since you might be able to capitalize on his production over the past two seasons and talk a fellow GM into thinking the Jones trade will help Ellis, when in truth Ellis might have a better chance of seeing his stats decline rather than stay the same or even improve.

 

That leaves Stone the winner. In points-only leagues, Stone makes an interesting buy low, since he’s pigeonholed by many as only a multi-cat contibutor. In truth, he has the tools to produce and, more importantly, should continue to get the same (if not added) opportunity to do so on a team that only stands to improve.