Lars Eller: Big Strides for The Great Dane

Photo courtesy of The Saucer Pass

Upon signing his 4-year, $14 million contract, Eller’s expectations greatly increased. 25 games into the 2014-2015 season, it’s hard to argue with the results

 

Lars Eller has always carried a little more pressure than most players in the organization, largely as a result of the way in which he was acquired. A 2007 first-round pick (No. 13) of the St.Louis Blues, Eller was acquired by the Canadiens on June 17, 2010, as part of a trade that sent goaltender Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis. Discussions (albeit stupid ones) inexplicably continue to this very day about whether or not the Canadiens made the right decision in keeping Carey Price rather than dealing him in place of Halak after Jaro’s extraordinary playoff performance. Ian Schultz also came Montreal’s way, however, besides a 23-point season in 2011-2012 with the Hamilton Bulldogs, he’s been a mainstay in the ECHL; it’s safe to call him a 3rd round bust. He’s currently playing on his 4th different ECHL team in the past two seasons.

Canadiens forwards Jiri Sekac and Lars Eller celebrate a goal against the Minnesota Wild (Photo courtesy of La Metropole Sports)

As for Eller, he’s been nothing but an underachieving centre buried in the bottom 6 since his arrival in Montreal; reliably skating alongside such superstars as Travis Moen, Mathieu Darche, Louis Leblanc, Benoit Pouliot, Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Rene Bourque. He spent some time with a burnt out Andrei Kostitsyn and a young Alex Galchenyuk along the way as well.

Most would say the highlight of his career to date would be his 4-goal, 5-point night against the Winnipeg Jets in 2012, and while it was absolutely spectacular, I disagree. I believe the defining moment and highlight of his career wasn’t a single night but rather the entire 2012-2013 season when he was the 3rd highest scoring Montreal Canadien forward and tied (Markov) for the 4th highest scoring Hab with 30 points in 46 games. Only Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec managed a higher point total among forwards – yes, Eller outscored (in less games) Montreal’s elite centreman David Desharnais. Eller narrowly missed out on leading the entire Canadiens team in 5v5 points as he finished one point behind Max Pacioretty. It was clear Eller had the talent to put up some substantial offensive numbers.

Unfortunately, Eller also suffered the lowlight of his career in that same year as he was knocked out cold by Senators defenseman Eric Gryba in the 2013 NHL playoffs. He sustained a concussion and a broken nose in Game one and missed the rest of the series. Some say it was the series defining moment considering Eller was among the very best Canadiens that season.

Here we are in Eller’s 5th full NHL season. With just one assist in his first seven games this year, to go along with an ugly -6 rating, on the surface it looked as though Eller was off to a start similar to the latter 70 games in 2013-2014, and the critics were front and centre. It was as if they had completely forgotten about his 13 points in 17 playoff games just 4 months earlier. 18 games later, Eller has added 7 goals and 2 assists to his totals and has played some fantastic hockey. While he’s only on-pace for 33 points this season, that mark would actually be his highest total in any one NHL season. Seems like a low season high, doesn’t it? That may be, but it shouldn’t be concerning at all; Eller’s peripheral numbers are great.

He and Manny Malhotra have combined to take a lot of the difficult minutes away from Plekanec, who has done nothing but flourish this season. And Eller has been among the league’s best in the role Therrien deploys him.

(click to enlarge)

There are 17 centres (according to war-on-ice.com) that fall within the parameters I set for the following data sets (between 10.50-13.50 of 5v5 TOI/G; Rel OZst% between -8.00% and -11.00%).

Only Brandon Prust and Tyler Toffoli have a better FF% relative to their team than Eller – both having spent the majority of their time on the wing. Leo Komarov as well as young guns Brock Nelson and Tyler Toffoli have more 5v5 points than Eller; besides Toffoli, both players carry very poor 5v5 shot metrics. Also worth noting, Eller has the highest number of 5v5 goals, something that is very important in the modern day NHL. Unsurprisingly, Mikhail Grabovski is still in a similar role he’s become accustomed to and, still producing very well.

Although Eller’s offensive zone start percentage relative to his teammates isn’t as low as a handful of others, his 40.22% overall offensive zone start percentage is only higher than Prust and Barkov, which makes his RelFenwick that much more impressive.

(click to enlarge)

In case you were wondering, here are the Canadiens’ centres. Desharnais’ Rel OZst% is actually the 6th highest among centres in the NHL that have played at least 200 5v5 minutes. Malhotra’s -38.54% is 3rd lowest.

Opening it up to the entire NHL, 22 total forwards fit within the parameters similar to the role Eller plays:

(click to enlarge)

 

Aleksander Barkov is having a really rough season offensively, however he’s being relied on heavily in some difficult minutes. Eller remains 3rd in RelFenwick.

For the more visual learners:

(click to enlarge)

 

Ideally, you’d like to be as close as possible to the top left corner. This section is reserved for players who are leaned on in the defensive zone but come away with excellent shot attempt differentials.

You will never – and I truly do mean never – see Desharnais anywhere close to this entire graph. Imagine this scatterplot’s x-axis extends as far as possible to the right; this is where you’d find Desharnais. And Therrien. Having dinner. And talking about Bouillon.

Despite this usage, Eller is 4th among Habs players with 9.47 shots on goal per 60 minutes of 5v5 play, sitting behind only Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty. Staggering around 14th is top line centre David Desharnais. In fact, Malhotra averages 2.13 shots on goal per 60 minutes of 5v5 play more than little Davie. That is bordering embarrassing. When your No.1 centre is relying that heavily on his linemates to shoot the puck it has to become a little easier for the opposition to defend. Yet, Pacioretty continues chugging.

Only once this season has Eller put together points in back-to-back games and it was ironically a 3-game point streak in which he scored 3 times and added 2 helpers. He has a chance tonight to make that twice this season.

Overall, Eller has been exactly what I hoped for going into this season and, to be honest, his production could easily be among the best on the Canadiens if a few more bounces went his way to begin the year.

With the (baseless) rumours swirling about Eller’s potential departure in a deal that would bring in a legitimate winger so that Galchenyuk can be moved to centre, it really begs the question: What specifically is preventing the Canadiens from moving Desharnais? Is it league-wide interest? Is it the apparent superior chemistry between him and Pacioretty? Is it his contract? Or is it simply because peripheral numbers don’t really mean anything so they do little in showing Eller’s true value – which I believe is higher than Desharnais’. Whatever the reason, a Canadiens squad featuring Galchenyuk-Plekanec-Eller-Malhotra down the middle trumps a Canadiens squad featuring Desharnais-Plekanec-Galchenyuk-Malhotra down the middle.

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Curtis Kinden (21 Posts)

Born in 1988. Grew up a die hard Habs fan and Jays fan. Outstanding shortstop and a great breakfast cook. Sarcasm comes naturally. Follow me on Twitter @CurtisAATH


7 Responses to Lars Eller: Big Strides for The Great Dane

  1. As usual, this is just ANOTHER article of lars vs dd. It doesn’t EXPLICITLY say it, but it is. It just never stops in this town…but what most INTELLIGENT people who follow the habs understand is that its not either or and they are not comparable players. Lars is a defensive forward and that is what he does well, with a little offensive upside. DD is an offensive player and that is what he does well. The fact is, IF dd had a proper winger with him and pacc that could work the boards, be physical, create space and pass a pack, that line soars and dd is an 80 pt centre for 3.5 million. Cole was good but not THAT guy, nor was vanek, nor is Gallagher. Remember, when DD first got called up in 2010, he played with cement hands plumbers and STILL outscored lars in just about any year of lars’. If bergy doesn’t go and get a real right winger for the dd line then you trade dd, but if you want to maximize that line, and at good value, then you go and get that winger. Max is the shooter, dd the feeder and mr.x should be the digger. That’s how it works. If you think we have a shot this year, you keep pleks. If you don’t, you trade pleks now in a package for a winger for the future. Galchenyuk is ready to play center now.

    lars is fine and a nice player, but he is what he is and he will never have the skill that dd has.

    DD is NOT on this team because he is French, just ask Gabriel Dumont.

    jon December 2, 2014 at 4:15 pm Reply
  2. Lars and dd are not comparable so stop trying. Each has a place on this team and each has a role to play. The truth is, if bergy wants to get the MOST out of DD, get that line a winger that crashes and bangs, works the boards, digs the puck out….Gallagher wasn’t that, vanek wasn’t that, and cole wasn’t that. If bergy doesn’t use the assets he has to go and get that guy, then you move DD. If he does get that winger, dd becomes an 80 pt guy at 3.5, which is pretty good value. Lars is a good shut down center with a little upside. Galchenyuk and dd are good offensive centers that each bring something to the table. If you trade one guy now to get this team to another level over the next 2-4 yrs, its pleks. He is 32, earns 5, and will be diminishing returns by the time we are REALLY ready as a team to compete for lord stan.

    Pleks is the guy to move after the year is over…its logical, it makes sense…galchenyuk is ready to play center, and like I said, if you use pleks to get that winger for pacc and dd, that line can become dangerous. Remember, in his first year, with plumber linemates and no sheltered minutes, he produced more than lars ever has on a ppg ratio. DD is just fine where he is, he just needs that big aggressive talented winger to maximize his talents…just ask guy boucher…oh, and in case you are wondering, im an anglo and too many fellow anglos hate dd because they think he is on this team because he is French….which is just ridiculous…just ask Gabriel Dumont, who twice scored 50 goals in junior and is now in his 5th year in Hamilton, and he is FRENCH.

    nuff said.

    jon December 2, 2014 at 4:32 pm Reply
  3. If we are going to discuss this thing that isn’t going to happen, and by that I mean a C Being traded for an elite winger, we need to honestly look at who is going to net an elite player in return, and we both know that is not DD. So the rumors, although baseless, probably predicate on that simple fact. If the habs trade DD it is simply to get rid of him, or to get a mediocre draft pick in return.

    I also don’t think moving Galchenyuk to center is a good idea. You have to play in the tough areas way more, most importantly deep in your offensive zone. Galchenyuk is not a great defensive player and I think this would result in confidence issues, and burn him out rapidly. Furthermore he already gets punished by the opposition on the wing, this would only intensify considerably as a top line center.

    Galchenyuk will get his chance when somebody goes down, but giving away DD for nothing to simply get Galchenyuk to center is not a good idea. There is not enough center depth in Hamilton in the event that someone gets hurt, and having someone else as the top line center probably isn’t going to result in that much more production, if any more at all.

    Dave December 2, 2014 at 9:48 pm Reply
    • well said. pleks is the guy to move and we ought to get a real tough, big winger with skills for pacc and dd…it is the right move…we wont win a cup for a few years…now is the time to use pleks to better our team before he is worth a lot less.

      jon December 2, 2014 at 10:42 pm Reply
    • You’re sort of confusing me here, Dave. A large portion of your comment refers to the “top line center” position being grueling and punishing, concluding that Galchenyuk simply wouldn’t be able to handle it and eventually “burning out”. Are you suggesting Desharnais handles it well? Or are you saying that neither player can handle it?

      I’d also love for you to provide some sort of data or fact to prove your statement:

      “…having someone else as the top line center probably isn’t going to result in that much more production, if any more at all.”

      I can’t see the expected production for a No.1 C on the Montreal Canadiens being 53 points (Desharnais’ average since being given that top line center position). I can certainly envision one of Eller, Plekanec or Galchenyuk registering far more alongside Pacioretty and Gallagher/Parenteau than the 41 points Desharnais is currently on pace for. Nothing makes me believe Galchenyuk won’t be a 70-point player in his career. Pacioretty would almost certainly be a 40-goal player already, as well.

      Curtis Kinden December 3, 2014 at 10:49 am Reply
  4. Your running the numbers made me go out and do the same. Sweet Jebus! I knew I didn’t like Desharnais on the top line, but now I know why. Terrible stats yet, as usual, he is being given the benefit of the doubt.

    What would happen for Pacioretty if he had someone who could produce alongside him? Pleks, Galchenyuk, or Eller? 40 goals would be more like a given than a target.

    Kyle December 3, 2014 at 10:03 am Reply
    • Desharnais and Pacioretty seem more and more each season to be inseparable in the eyes of the organization, or, more specifically, Therrien. He also continues to receive the easiest minutes. This inevitably forces the Canadiens to spread the tougher TOI among the other 3 lines which further limits what they can produce.

      If Desharnais was generating as much as he should given how he’s being deployed, I’d have no problem with him there. But because he isn’t, that extra slack that falls on Plekanec and Eller (more specifically Lars this season) makes their production look a little less impressive than it actually is.

      It’s really a shame, too. Desharnais has a good head on his shoulders and definitely gives his all each game. He’s just simply not a No.1 C.

      Curtis Kinden December 3, 2014 at 10:55 am Reply

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