Rabid Habs

How Much For a Danish?

Habs Lars Eller high five with Daniel Brière

Lars Eller, who is scheduled to have his arbitration meeting this Friday, still hasn’t reached a deal with the Habs. It was reported by RDS today that the 25 year old is seeking for $3,100,000 a year, but it seems like Marc Bergevin has different numbers in mind for the center. The Montreal Canadiens offered him $1,650,000 a year which is only a slight raise from his last deal ($1,325,000). Understandably for those familiar with this process, it’s not shocking that there’s a substantial gap between the amounts that both parties are looking for. The athlete is looking for the most money he can get and the General Manager simply wants to save the most money possible. This is just the nature of business; both parties want what’s best for them. This is why we often see both sides make some sacrifices and meet somewhere in the middle in order to reach a deal. With today’s era and the inclusion of a salary cap, properly evaluating a player’s worth has never been so crucial to manage your team properly. At the end of the day, overpaying for a certain player can be the key factor between landing a highly coveted Free Agent or losing one of your top players.

I don’t think the Canadiens and Eller will reach a deal before Friday and I’m not very keen on the idea of bringing him to arbitration. This has the potential to get real ugly. For those not aware of how arbitration works, they bring in an arbitrator who acts as some sort of mediator between the player and the GM. The player explains why he feels he’s worth X amount of money and the GM explains why his OWN player isn’t worth that much and pretty much denigrates him right in front of his face. After hearing both sides, the intermediary determines an amount that the team can agree to sign on a one or two year basis, if the team feels that the price is too iffy, they have the option to walk away. Although the latter rarely happens, it’s happened to Clarke MacArthur with the Atlanta Thrashers when he was assigned $2,400,000 by the arbitrator. This process can be really bad on the confidence of a player. Considering Eller’s past struggles between the ears, I think it’s a really, but really bad idea. Sylvain Guimond, who acts as the official sports psychologist for the Montreal Canadiens, shared two years ago on l’Antichambre that the forward who was the main piece (well only piece considering how Ian Schultz turned out…) in the Jaroslav Halak trade had been seeing him to work on his confidence. These sessions were highly constructive for Eller since it coincided with the best stretch of his NHL career.

I know that some will argue that these guys are hockey players and should just suck it up but let’s not forget that they’re human beings just like us (except for Nicklas Lidstrom, I still have suspicions that he’s a robot!). How would you feel if to determine how big your raise was at work, they brought in some third party negotiator and had your own boss senselessly bash you with you in the room? It can’t be too pleasant on the ego; well that’s what Eller will most likely have to go through this Friday. This arbitration could be a deciding factor on whether or not the 6’2 center will be part of the team’s core long term. If Bergevin decides to sign him to two years at whatever amount is determined by the arbitration, Eller could become a UFA after his contract. Given the harsh criticism that he will potentially take from Marc Bergevin and the treatment he’s received from Michel Therrien, it’s definitely plausible that Eller could decide to leave the team and go somewhere where he will feel truly appreciated.

It’s a fact that since day one, Eller has rubbed Michel Therrien the wrong way. Based on the time where he was unjustifiably benched by the coach following a sluggish season opener in 2012-13 where nobody stood out, the fact that he’s never really been given time on the Power Play or solely based on the revolving teammates he’s been given this season. Many fans are eager to see Alex Galchenyuk play at center and it will come with time. Since Therrien loves David Desharnais like a son and that Tomas Plekanec has often been praised for his leadership by the management, Eller could very well be the odd man out when it comes to making room for Galchenyuk. Personally, I would hold on to him, other than Jacob de la Rose, there are not many players in this organization that bring the same package as he does. Big, talented and defensively responsible with untapped offensive potential aren’t on the corner of every street.

There’s no doubt that Eller had a tough year this season but his playoffs are definitely a positive sign. His 13 pts in 17 playoffs games put him 2nd in scoring for Montreal. The Danish forward had a prolific start where he collected 9 pts in 13 GP but that streak quickly for the worse… He finished the rest of the season with only 17 pts in 64 GP including a twenty four game sequence without a goal. There is no doubt that Eller benefitted from a lot of ‘puck luck’ (who could forget that ‘goal’ he scored against Vancouver at the beginning of the season) at the start of the season but he also suffered from the same phenomenon throughout the year (on the other hand, who could forget that save made by Corey Crawford on Eller).

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Despite some amazing chemistry with what was baptized as the EGG line (Eller, Gallagher & Galchenyuk), Michel Therrien separated the trio to get Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais going offensively. While the move did pay off and had a positive influence on the two player’s contributions offensively, Eller suffered from losing Gallagher on his wing. It’s no coincidence that any line that Gallagher plays on has success; he is the heart and soul of this team up front. Eller was given the honor of playing with: an injured Brandon Prust, a washed up Daniel Briere, an unmotivated Rene Bourque and on some lucky nights, two of these hot commodities. Eller was also rarely given any time on the PP (10th forward for AVG TOI on the PP based on regulars). It’s pretty mind blowing considering the strategy that Gerard Gallant was utilizing: a dump and chase system. It’s a lot easier to retrieve the puck and win battles along the boards with big bodies than with the likes of Desharnais, Gionta and Briere. Also, Rene Bourque who half assed everything and barely converted on any chances was given 20 more seconds on average than Eller. We’re talking about a player who had just 16 pts and was benched on many occasions last season due to poor play. Hell, in the one game that Martin St. Pierre played with the team this season, he played more time on the PP than the average TOI for Eller…

The enigmatic center has two problems that are setting him back: confidence and inconsistency. There’s no need to panic because of his lack of consistency it’s perfectly common for a player of his age. Most players go through the same thing; I’d only start worrying if Eller is still experiencing the same problems two years from now when he’s in his prime. Then I’d start labeling him as another Andrei Kostitsyn: all the tools but no toolbox. Even if Eller never reaches the potential that was expected of him when the St Louis Blues drafted him 13th overall in 2007, he can still be a solid NHLer. He’s physical (130 hits this season), he’s good defensively (can play on the PK or handle tough matchups), excellent on faceoffs (53.2% this year) and can chip in around 35-40 points a season. As shown by the recent Cup winners, depth is key with today’s salary cap: Chicago had Dave Bolland as their third line center, the Kings had Jarret Stoll, the Penguins had Jordan Staal…If Eller can turn into a Jarret Stoll and anchor a solid 3rd line down the road with the likes Michael McCarron and Jacob de la Rose, I’d be ecstatic.

So how much is Lars Eller realistically worth?

I think he’s worth a lot more than the $1,650,000 offered by the Canadiens but I don’t think he’s worth $3,100,000 either. I think Eller is worth between $2,400,000 and $2,750,000. With the cap increasing ($2,750,000 would represent less than 4% of the Canadiens’ salary cap) and the abundance of 3rd line players making between two and three million, it’s perfectly reasonable for Eller’s agent to be trying to push for that much money.

Here’s a few comparable for Eller’s next contract:

Jannik Hansen, 28 years old, RW: $2,500,000 that was signed before this season (Best season: 39 pts in 82 GP, was coming off a 27 pts in 47 GP season).

Martin Hanzal, 27 years old, C: $3,100,000 that was signed before 2011-12 season (Best season: 40 pts in 65 GP and was coming off a 26 pts in 61 GP season).

Artem Anisimov, 26 years old, C: $3,283,333 that was signed before this season (Best season: 44 pts in 82 GP, was coming off a 18 pts in 35 GP season).

Joshua Bailey, 24 years old, RW/LW: $3,300,000 that was signed before this season (Best season: 38 pts in 77 GP, was coming off 19 pts in 38 GP season).

Those four were all RFAs when they signed those contracts and weren’t coming off amazing seasons. Obviously these cases are all different because you’d have to evaluate who their teammates were and what their role on the team was but purely from a points/contract status perspective, they’re good comparable for Eller. One thing worth taking in consideration is that since Eller is a center that should increase his value in the arbitrator’s eyes.

I think the best for both parties would be to accept a one year deal so Eller can prove himself and earn that long lucrative contract if he has a great season. If he doesn’t THEN you can start questioning his offensive ceiling and whether or not he has the hockey sense or vision to be a top 6 center in the NHL. With those things in mind, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to contemplate trading him to make room for Galchenyuk but that’s only if Eller has another subpar season. Otherwise I still believe that Desharnais should go.

As a proud owner of a Lars Eller jersey, I’m not afraid to admit that I’m biased towards him but throwing the towel on him after one bad season would be a Rejean Houle-esque mistake in my opinion. I hope to see Eller to play in the Bleu Blanc Rouge uniform for years to come!

GO HABS GO

2 Comments

  1. Bart van Eyk

    July 24, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    Seldom do I engage pundits in pointless speculation or pontification; however, something needs to be said. I have no doubt that greed will prevail in the case of PK’s re-signing. In the meantime, Lars Eller is being low-balled, and probably will end up in arbitration….there, his fragile vonfidence will be broken.nanother poor season will ensue, and Lars Eller will be cast aside as another failure…only, of course, to find success elsewhere. A pattern all too often repeated among our beloved Habs. M. Bergevin, if you have any sense or decency, do not allow this to get to arbitration! You know what he’s worth…pay it! If he had a bad season, you only have M. Therrien to thank! The man plays favourites. He destroyed an exciting line to patch (pardon the pun) another one. Who knows if the EGG line , might not have become a true number one line! If Lars is ruined, it’s MT’s fault. To add insult to injury, you gave the man an additional 3+1! Sign Lars, without tearing him down before an arbitrator! And get MT off his back!

  2. Antoine Mathieu

    July 24, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Seems like our wish came true with the news of Eller re-signing for 4 years. I’m glad that Bergevin bought two UFA years with this contract and it might be iffy the first year (although the salary distribution makes it so Eller is getting paid 2.5 for the next two seasons). But with the cap going up I’m not too worried that this deal will turn out to be good for the Canadiens. Like you said, Eller’s fate as an offensive player in his Therrien’s hands. It might take a change of team for Eller or a change of coach for the CH to see the true potential of Eller in the NHL. Thanks for your comment!