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


  1. I'm not adverse to the idea depending on the ROI, but after watching Ellers vs the admittedly struggling Rangers - he is a big body who goes to the net and has scoring ability, creates time and space. No he won't drop the gloves, and in fact with Prust on the team Moen no longer feels the need to participate in that department either. Throw in the 24 CH flash where the team are saying they have to take it on the chin and stay out of the box and I'm not convinced Bergevin & Therrien agree with your need to fill a hole that they may not even determine is there.

    All th at said, I'd love to have Ryane Clowe - were he not facing a likely 10 game suspension for Friday's hoo-haa vs the Sharks.

    Do I see Eller as a core of the Habs moving forward? Not if they can get a better deal for him. But right now he represents some quality depth and likely will continue to do so. It's a nice thing to have. We haven't seen it in recent years on this team.

  2. Not sure why MTL ought to give up a solid 23-year old C who has plenty of upside for two guys heading into the back end of their careers. Clowe is a pending UFA who won't have any reason to help MTL out by taking less on a new contract and the salary cap is set to contract next season under the new CBA.

    And Ott? One 20-goal season in his career. We already have Prust, Moen, White signed on for grit, we don't need a semi-talented agitator replacing Eller, who has superior skill and upside, plus a cheaper contract.

    This stinks of short-sighted thinking that we lambasted the previous Habs management group for. Giving up a young asset who has plenty of years in front of him and a growing ability, for older players with shorter contracts, that are also more expensive and not likely to touch career highs.

  3. Again, this is ONLY the right thing to do if they come out of the road trip looking healthy and like road warriors, AND Carey Price is still lights out and the best he's ever been in his career. Anyone who thinks that this is shortsighted and only a rental, clearly things the Habs will NOT contend in 2013.

    1. If I were to ask you for a list of the 5 teams most likely to win the stanley cup this season would you honestly have the Canadiens on that list? In my opinion if you have to add a power forward of Clowe's caliber at the deadline then you aren't a true contender. Most teams that have a roster that is ready to compete for a cup bring in older vets to add depth, experience and secondary scoring. The Kings are the only team in recent memory that brought in top end talent (Carter) at the deadline. The Bruins picked up Kaberle, the Hawks didn't trade for anyone significant, the Pens picked up a 38 year old Guerin, the Red Wings traded for Brad Stuart and the Ducks traded for Brad May. Those are the kind of moves that true stanley cup contenders make because they know they have the core to compete.

      Hopefully Montreal will be there at some point in the near future but I don't think this season is it. There is a lot of risk involved trading away a big 23 year old center who could be a major contributor for years to come in exchange for a rental player when your team is not ready to compete for a cup.

  4. If the Habs come out of the next 11 of 15 looking like road warriors, it'll be because Eller was a major part of it. A good time to finally give Eller offensive wingers and a majority of starts in the O-zone to see what he can do now that his defensive game has solidified.

  5. Lars Eller has yet to get an opportunity to center a top 6 line. He has gotten a handful of chances to play in the top 6, but always on the wing and never for more than a few games while filling in for an injured player. Had Eller been given a 15-20 game stint centering Cole and Pacioretty and been invisible I would understand if people thought he would never be an effective top 6 center. That is not the case though.

    Eller is a big bodied center with a lot of skill, which the Canadiens have been lacking for over two decades. Every time Eller has been given the opportunity to play alongside skilled wingers he has been very productive. Last season when he played with Kostitsyn and Moen for roughly 10 games they were the teams most productive line over that time period. Now that he is playing with Galchenyuk and Cole/Prust his line is once again one of the most productive on the team. Since Therrien benched Eller he has been the hardest working forwards on the team and one of the most effective, no matter what role he has been asked to play. Whether it be a more offensive role like in the last 3-4 games or a shutdown energy role playing with armstrong and moen, Eller has proved he can contribute at both ends of the ice.

    In my opinion it would be a big mistake to part ways with Eller. We have yet to see the tip of the ice berg of what this kid can do. Few would argue that Plekanec is one of the best forwards on this team and at Eller's age he had yet to play 82 games in the NHL. He didn't have his breakout season until he was 25 years old. Maybe we should be patient and wait for Eller to grow into his potential.

    I don't disagree that the Habs could use a player like Ryan Clowe. However you are underestimating what it would take to draw a player like that away from their team. There are only a handful of power forwards in the league as good or better than Clowe (e.g Lucic, Backes, Getzlaf, Perry, Hartnell and Horton). There aren't many players that can score 20+ goals and combine that with 100+ PIM every season. For this reason these players are extremely hard to trade for. Seeing as Clowe is a UFA at the end of this season trading for him now would also involve a good deal of risk. There is no guarantee that Clowe will want to stick around long term and we could very well part ways with Eller and a few high draft picks for 2-3 months of Ryan Clowe. As far as Steve Ott goes it is very misleading to portray him as a 20 goal scorer. He did it once and has averaged 32 points a season over his career, he is more comparable to Brandon Prust than Ryan Clowe.