Professional tryouts don’t last forever. One notable contract is coming to a close.
Checkers goalie Dan Ellis, a 32-year-old NHL veteran who signed with the team just before training camp, is now 21 games into his 25-game deal. Thanks to a tightly-packed cluster of games coming up on the schedule, that means time will run out quite soon - following the game against Milwaukee on Tuesday, to be exact.
That leaves the Checkers with a few options if they choose to keep him, namely signing him to another 25-game tryout or to a proper AHL contract. However, once his current contract expires, he becomes a free agent and could do the same elsewhere.
“We’ll talk to Carolina,” said coach Jeff Daniels, referring to the Checkers’ parent club which has the ultimate say in personnel decisions. “When the 25 games are up we’ll revisit it.”
Ellis, back in the AHL for the first time since 2007 due to injuries that cost him the second half of last season with the Anaheim Ducks and the absence of NHL opportunities due to the work stoppage, doesn’t seem too concerned about the process or his immediate future with the team.
“I signed a piece of paper before I first took the ice with these guys, and that’s about all I know,” he said. “I haven’t even talked to my agent yet, and I’m not really worried about it.”
With the injury – a groin tear that led to a sports hernia – now behind him, Ellis has proven to be more than capable this season. He ranks tied for fifth in the league with a .930 save percentage and is eighth with a 2.32 goals-against average – numbers that were even higher prior to a pair of poor team efforts during the team’s current four-game losing streak. He’s also tied for fifth in the league with two shutouts and won the AHL’s Player of the Week award on Oct. 29 during a 157-minute shutout streak.
With Ellis forming an effective tandem alongside Justin Peters (the two have split the workload evenly this season), the decision on whether to retain Ellis would seem to be an easy hockey decision.
“We’re obviously really happy with what he’s done on the ice and he’s also a great leader for us,” said Daniels. “In talking to him, it seems like he likes it here.”
With Ellis indeed content to stay (he did, after all, just ditch his Anaheim orange pads in exchange for some new Checkers-friendly reds), it appears the decision will indeed come down to the Hurricanes’ assessment. As of a few weeks ago, they liked what they saw.
“He’s a guy we had an eye on throughout the summer,” Ron Francis, Carolina’s vice president of hockey operations, said during a recent visit to Charlotte. “With him coming off the injury you don’t know what to expect, but as a veteran guy with experience you knew he was going to be calm, cool and collected. He’s played extremely well so far, which indicates that the injury is not a factor.”
Having started the Checkers’ most recent game on Sunday, Ellis will likely have two more starts – against Lake Erie on Friday and against Milwaukee on Tuesday – during his current PTO. If the Hurricanes are still on the fence about Ellis, either as a viable option for Charlotte, which would have to call on John Muse or Rob Madore from the ECHL to fill a void caused by his departure, or for Carolina, which may have an open backup spot behind Cam Ward, those are the final chances to evaluate.
“We were fortunate we were able to bring him in on a tryout to assess him, which is what we’re continuing to do now,” said Francis.