Monday, 25 February 2013

Why the Canadiens should trade Lars Eller

On TSN 690 radio Sunday, I voiced my rationale as to why the Montreal Canadiens should trade Lars Eller. The segment got a lot of feedback and participation and so I decided to lay it out here in this post.

As Montreal continues to pile up wins on the season and look like a club that will take part in the postseason, to me, they'll have to address a need. Unfortunately, any time you seek to address a need, you have to move out an asset to make it happen.

Montreal has speed and skill, a perennial theme that doesn't exactly scream playoff warriors. As everyone knows, the key to winning the cup is to have a strong balance of speed and skill, combined with grit and experience. But, what can they acquire and what can they ship out to get it?
Eller: Sell high on him

Enter Lars Eller. Coming off a game in which he put up a couple of points and looked every bit the productive NHLer, the market and value for Lars Eller has never been higher. However, in the grand scheme of things, how important is Lars Eller to the Habs? Is he a core player to build around? Can they win without him? Does he bring anything unique and irreplaceable to the table? I submit not.

The Canadiens are in need of another big body with some scoring ability up front. With players like Gionta, Desharnais, Gallagher, Plekanec, etc, this team needs an equalizer - and we're not talking about a fourth line goon. No, what Montreal needs is a player that can score semi-regularly, intimate the opposition with a body check or goaltender screen and stick up teammates when the situation calls for action. Without such a player, Montreal will be doomed to the same fate they suffered in 2007-2008, when they finished first in the east and flamed out in the second round to a tougher Flyers squad.

On Sunday, I asked my intern, Stefano Mocella, to research some possible available players that fit this description. He didn't disappoint. He came up with Ryane Clowe of the San Jose Sharks. A rugged winger with a few seasons of at least 20 goals, and with a whole bunch of penalty minutes this season, Clowe is the ideal man for the job in La Belle Province. The Newfoundland native is a fierce competitor, is on a team that is struggling and he's a free agent at season's end. Clowe also recently came off the bench to defend a teammate, a no-no in the NHL, but a great example of his leadership and stand-up qualities.

Clowe: That face just says grit
While we don't know if San Jose would actually move him, nor what it would take to pry Clowe away from the left coast, it's very plausible that Lars Eller could be appealing to the Sharks. The question would then become what else Montreal would have to give up in order to snare Clowe.

Another guy we mentioned on Sunday was Buffalo's Steve Ott. The professional instigator is winning faceoffs at a 58 percent rate this season, is languishing on a last-place club and he's signed only through next season. Any Habs fans remember Ott goading Ryan White into some massive penalty minutes earlier in the year?

And oh by the way, we should also mention that Ott has scored 20 goals in this league as well.

The Canadiens need more of an edge if they want to progress in these playoffs. Look up and down the rosters of the teams that have won the cup in recent years, and you'll see more than a couple of tough players  that compliment the skilled ones. Montreal needs exactly that.

As for Eller? I had callers telling me that he'll be missed, that he's going to be a strong NHLer for many years to come. How do you know? What is Lars Eller's offensive ceiling, really? I don't think it's more than 20 goals. Plus, every time he had an opportunity on one of the top lines, it seemed like he was invisible. But when the pressure is off, boy does he come through.

Again, try and keep in mind that such a trade is contingent on Montreal proving over the next few road games that they can continue to win against anyone, anywhere.

The x-factor, of course, is Carey Price. He has been a strong NHL goaltender, but not one that has been considered top five in the league. He hasn't been the guy to carry his team and will them to a few victories in a row. But we're starting to see it now. He's got a couple of shutouts on the season and it seems like he's getting better and better. If you take an elite Price and combine it with a Canadiens team that can win on the road, well, then you really have something.

So, let's see how the next couple of weeks play out. If they go as well as many Habs fans think they will, then yeah, it's time for Montreal GM Marc Bergevin to think about his team as being viable contenders this year.

The question is: will Lars Eller fit in to the team's contending plans.

Matthew Ross is the host of Game Points with Matthew Ross, a twice weekly TSN 690 radio show. He's also a freelance writer and Public Relations and Content Provider professional. You can follow Matthew @tsnmatthew or reach him at