However, there is one player who does seem to make that difference, and that would Matt Ellis.
Call it luck, a coincidence, or whatever you want, but over the past few years, the Sabres are simply a better team with #37 in the lineup. I call it “the Matt Ellis factor.”
It is a bit of an oddity that a 4th line forward can make such a difference in a hockey game, especially when he rarely puts up points, but that’s exactly what has been going on since 2008.
You may not notice him or hear his name often, but Ellis is a player who puts in the most effort on every shift. His hard work appears to be contagious, because when he plays, the entire team appears to play better. Ellis isn’t the most talented player, but very few players will outwork him, and that is all a coach can ask for.
Ellis surely has made the most of his career, and has come a long way. He was never drafted, but was signed as a free agent by Detroit in May of 2002. The Kings claimed Ellis off waivers in February of 2008, and then Buffalo did the same eight months later.
Ellis came to Buffalo with just 70 games of NHL experience, but has grown to become a well-liked, hard-working veteran player.
“Being around the young guys and playing a leadership role there kind of gave me – I hate to say increase in value – kind of showed a different side of me, increased my importance to a certain degree with so many high-profile young guys coming up through the system that are going to be needed here in the short-term,” Ellis said. “I think it was a great fit for me.
“The leadership role’s always been there,” Ellis continued. “I’ve worn the ‘C’ for a long time in the minors. But to go down, help build, help Chadd when Ron came up here for Lindy, I think it was a great fit for me.
Ellis was named the youngest captain in Grand Rapids Griffins’ team history at the age of 24. Ellis has become a guy that everyone wants on their team, and that characteristic is tough to emulate.
Since Ellis has been with the Sabres, Buffalo has performed much better overall. Don’t believe the hype? Just look at the differences of how the team has done with him in and out of the lineup:
Season with Matt Ellis
without Matt Ellis
2008-2009 23-16-6 18-16-3
2009-2010 42-21-9 3-6-1
2010-2011 11-1-2 32-28-8
2011-2012 27-26-7 12-6-4
2012-2013 3-2-1 18-19-5
2013-2014 4-4-2 7-23-2
The 2011-2012 season may be the only flaw here, but even with that included, the Sabres have found more success with Ellis in the lineup. The Sabres earned a point in 66.8% of those games in which Ellis played, while only 53.5% in the ones he did not. When Ellis records a point, the Sabres are 24-8.
It has been a relatively consistent correlation since Ellis has been with the organization. The numbers don’t lie. When Matt Ellis is in the lineup, the Sabres perform better overall. When John Scott scored his lone goal this season, Ellis was not only on the ice, but he earned the assist. The Matt Ellis factor is real.