Exciting news broke late this morning that the Capitals’ own “Great Dane”, Lars Eller had come to terms on, and signed a contract extension that will keep him rocking the red for another five seasons for a handsome total of $17.5 M. In an interview from earlier today, Lars said he’s happy to have re-signed, as he feels he’s starting to meet his own expectations. He described entering the post-season as a an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in his twenties as a once in a lifetime opportunity, but he’s happy as a Capital and he gladly proclaimed that he wants to stay where he is. Lars has had a very good season so far this year, and has come into his own as the Capitals’ third-line center. Despite Lars’ growth since joining the Capitals from Montreal, the optimism of both Eller and the Capitals’ front office, a few concerns have arisen that beg for answers.
One of those concerns is that fellow Washington Capital and fan favorite John Carlson is set to enter unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of the season. The Caps have struggled to maintain a solid defensive unit all season since parting ways with Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk last summer; and Carlson is a major part of the defensive core they still have. However valid these concerns are, today’s contract extension with Eller should not alter the team’s odds of coming to terms on a new contract with anyone else somewhere down the road. A closer look at the Great Dane’s new agreement, and a few others like it, will explain why Washington is almost certain to come out ahead at the end of the re-signing period.
So starting at home, as mentioned before, Eller’s extension keeps him D.C. for five years at a total cost of $17.5 million. At first glance, that seems like an awful lot for a third-line center. But the numbers behind Eller’s performance suggest that this is actually par for the course. For starters, despite being a longer deal than his initial one, this extension has the same contract value as his current one, which means there won’t be any change in cap space used because of this agreement. Secondly, Eller is in the prime of his career. Having never really blossomed as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, the 28-year old has really flourished since arriving in Washington; and at about the halfway point in the average hockey career, Eller still has enough left in the tank to continue growing and producing for the boys in red.
Lars is on his way to having one the best seasons of his career thus far, and is rapidly closing in on his 100th goal milestone. Currently at a total of 96 career goals over a career of 576 games, Eller has scored 23 goals so far in his 134 games played as a Capital. He has also recorded 30 assists in his two seasons in DC; for a total of 53 points. Eller isn’t shy about taking shots either, having 99 shots on goal so far this season and two game-winning goals. Since coming to Washington, he has been on the positive side of the plus-minus statistic, with a plus-15 rating last year, and plus-5 so far this year. Despite this, his time in Montreal still lingers over his career rating in the stat, as his overall average leaves him at minus-13. Despite these impressive numbers, some may still remain concerned about the money the Caps have spent on the Great Dane, and to that, I say, worry not! Let’s take a look around the league and see just how fair of a deal we’ve gotten today.
To start off, let’s take a look at those pesky Penguins. Pittsburgh has been a thorn in Washington’s side for far too long, but there’s no denying they know how to make a fair contract deal. Riley Sheahan is the Lars Eller of the Penguins organization. That is, he is their third-line center. He has a contract very similar to the one Eller signed today, but at a much smaller scale. Sheahan’s contract is set to expire this year, as was Eller’s. Sheahan’s was for only two years, at a value of $4.1 million total. This contract was actually offered to him by the Detroit Red Wings, and is now being honored by Pittsburgh since he was part of their trade of fellow Center, Scott Wilson to Detroit last season. It would come as a surprise if Pittsburgh did’t attempt to re-sign the young forward this year. At 26-years old, and with eight years of professional hockey experience, Sheahan earned himself 20 points thus far this season, three quarters of which have been assists on goals for his teammates in the SteelCcity. In eight years, he has scored himself 134 goals in a total of 486 NHL games. Neither his career numbers, nor his current season numbers vary too much from Eller’s, their performance stats are almost identical.
Before we head to the Western Conference, we’ll take a closer look at the third-line center of a team that’s been absolutely on fire since early December. Riley Nash is the man in question, the Center for the Boston Bruins’ third-line. On July 1, 2016, Nash came to an agreement on a two-year contract with Beantown worth $1.8 M. Again, a much smaller scale than Lars’ contract renewal, but the numbers still make sense when comparing age, ability, and duration. Nash was originally a forward for the Carolina Hurricanes, with whom he had played since 2010. By this point, Eller has already been playing professionally for three years, having broken out himself in 2007. With his contract set to expire this summer, and Boston being on the hot streak its been on, it would come as a shock if the Bruins decided to let Nash walk after this season wraps up. After all, he has tallied up 15 goals and 25 assists in his 132 games with the organization. A lot of changes need not be made to a team that’s working as well as the Boston Bruins have been lately, and it’s clear that Nash is reliable player for the team. One stat that varies a bit between he and Lars Eller is Penalty Minutes (PIM). Nash has collected only 10 minutes of penalty time, while Eller has spent a half hour total in the sin bin this season. Despite this, Lars’ outshines Nash in numbers of both goals and assists.
Our next stop as we head out west leads us to last year’s Stanley Cup runners-up, the Nashville Predators. Their third-line center is Nick Bonino, and he is locked up through the 2021-22 season. His contract will spans five years, at a total of $16.4 million ($3.28 million per year) . This looks a lot more like Eller’s contract renewal at face value, and it will be seen how fair of a deal this is when we take a closer look at Bonino’s numbers. He is the same age as Eller, 28, and his career stats are very similar to the Great Dane’s. Keep in mind while reading these stats, that Bonino has 127 fewer professional ice hockey games than Eller. Eller has a total of 209 points in 576 games, while Bonino’s career points add up to 202. For the additional $1.1 million that is included in Eller’s contract, it seems like a hard deal to pass up for the extra year of action tacked on.
Lastly we visit the west coast to see what kind of deals the Pacific Division offers its third-line centers. It would appear they go slightly overboard with their bottom-six out west as we take a look at the third-line Center on the Anaheim Ducks, Adam Henrique. Henrique is signed into a contract that keeps him a member of the Ducks through 2020, however it is contract that will have spanned a total of six years, one more than Eller’s. And for an astronomical amount of money, costing the team a total of $24 million. Henrique has been playing professionally since 2010, and his numbers are only slightly better than Eller’s, having earned himself 32 points this season compared to the Great Dane’s 28. Is one year and $6.5 million worth the extra six points? We’ll leave that up to you to decide.
So, after taking a look at these numbers, it definitely appears as though the Capitals got a solid deal for re-signing Lars Eller. While par for the course for third-line players and Centers across the league at his age, this contract seems fair enough at face value. However, the best has only just begun for the Great Dane, who has broken out with the Caps over the last two seasons, and with five more in front of him, you can imagine he’s going to come into his own and be even better than he is now. It is important for a hockey team to have a solid bottom-six. A team needs to be able to produce on every line, not just with its top six. Lars Eller is a critical piece of the Washington puzzle. He, alongside bottom six players like Devante Smith-Pelly, Brett Connolly, and rookie Chandler Stephenson, has a responsibility to play hard and strong for the team’s sake when the star players can’t be out on the ice. And I’m sure with this contract extension, Lars Eller won’t let us down.
But what do you think? Do you think Eller was overpaid? Underpaid? Should we have put him on the trade block to see what we were offered from other teams? Sounds off in the comments section below, and as always, stay tuned to NoVa Caps for the latest Washington Capitals news.
By Chris Laroche