With no roster space left, the Sabres waived forward Matt Ellis today.
Is this the end of the 31-year-old’s five-year run with the team? Would he clear waivers? It’s possible a team will grab him. Will he make it to Rochester?
Ellis could come back right away even if he goes down. He was the Sabres’ only spare forward just days ago. Another player will get injured at some point.
Whatever happens, the hardworking Ellis made a strong mark in Buffalo.
I wrote this Jan. 6, 2009 as Ellis was enjoying the best stretch of his career.
BUFFALO – On a team featuring a possible 50-goal scorer, nine players earning more than $3 million and a collection of talent still the envy of many clubs, an undrafted fourth-line journeyman who’s been on waivers twice this season is helping revitalize the Sabres.
Matt Ellis, a hardworking, take-on-anything forward who treats every shift like it’s his last, is at the forefront of the Sabres’ short two-game 2009 resurgence.
The Sabres, listless and erratic too often this season, embodied Ellis’ style during two wins last week, reigning in their flashiness, showing more tenacity and consistently winning battles.
“He’s what our team is trying to be like with the work that he puts in,” said captain Craig Rivet, who plans to return from a shoulder injury tonight when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators at HSBC Arena. “He’s not real flashy, but he puts the work in and he’s successful. … He’s one of the hardest-working guys that you’re going to have on the ice.”
Ellis played his game for the ages Saturday during the Sabres’ 4-2 win over the scorching Bruins, scoring two goals (both in front of the net) and three points. He started the game with only four goals and had never tallied two points in a contest during his previous 84 NHL games.
After the game, congratulatory voicemails, text messages and his teammates’ appreciation awaited him.
“The biggest thrill, I guess, was just coming into the (dressing) room,” Ellis said. “The boys were just really pumped for me. It was nice to share a great team victory and good personal night as well.”
Three weeks ago, when the 27-year-old was stuck in Portland, it seemed ridiculous the likable Ellis could become the Sabres’ deus ex machina and help untangle what had become a mess of a season.
But the Sabres sent top prospect Nathan Gerbe back to Portland last week, letting Ellis keep the spot he earned. Coach Lindy Ruff lauded Ellis after the awful 4-2 loss to Washington last Tuesday, calling him the Sabres’ best player early. Then Ruff called out some of the team’s stars. Buffalo responded with a strong 4-1 win on Thursday in Toronto.
“His work ethic is amazing,” Sabres winger Jason Pominville said of Ellis. “I think when you see him do it, you say to yourself, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’”
Added Ellis: “My mantra is I try to do what I do night in and night out. And if that’s going to rub off on a few guys, my work ethic, then that’s great.”
Ellis’ drive, something he believes he partly received from his father, a Canadian prison guard for 30 years, has kept opening doors as he flies under the radar.
He planned on playing Canadian University hockey after going undrafted. Eventually, Detroit noticed him as an overage junior in the Ontario Hockey League. He had never even spoken to a team before the Red Wings rewarded him with a three-way contract and spot in ECHL Toledo, a step below the AHL.
Next Ellis cracked AHL Grand Rapids for four years, then Detroit briefly in 2006-07. He made it fulltime last year before Los Angeles claimed him on waivers. The Sabres grabbed him on waivers from the Kings during the preseason.
He played seven games in October as the Sabres recovered from injuries before clearing waivers. He came back from the Pirates on Dec. 18. Now it’s hard to imagine him going down again.
Ellis received some time on the left wing beside Pominville and Paul Gaustad during his 9:51 in Boston, a sign he’s cementing a better spot. He practiced there Monday, too. He’s not getting comfortable, however.
“I’m still going to do what I do day in and day out,” Ellis said. “I try to contribute in any way that I can and control the things that I can control. At the end of the day I’ve left everything out on the ice. If it doesn’t work out, that’s great. I’m going to do what I can to stick in this league.”