With the Washington Capitals’ season ending in another first round postseason exit, the team’s players and coaches conducted their annual exit interviews at MedStar Capitals Iceplex with the media, via teleconference, before heading their separate ways for the offseason. In his, Lars Eller spoke on the team falling short of the Stanley Cup, his injury during the postseason, and more.
Eller was first asked about the team’s disappointing performance in the five-game series against the Boston Bruins, which ended in a 4-1 loss at Capital One Arena on Sunday. Eller, whose honest assessment of the team’s performance during the series was noteworthy, once again answered frankly and upfront, telling The Washington Post’s Samantha Pell:
“It’s disappointing, a disappointing ending. I think we had the team to accomplish a lot more when I look at our lineup, and also how we played at times during the regular season I think we had more in us but we just didn’t bring it when it mattered, we weren’t able to play our best.”
Eller was also asked about his injury suffered in Game 2, which he returned from in Game 4. Eller admitted that he wasn’t feeling his best, saying, “I didn’t feel great in Game 4, I felt better in Game 5, but I wasn’t really able to play at the level, be at 100%, that’s not secret. It’s unfortunate timing, but I felt great in Game 1 and 2. I think I would have gotten better as the series went on but we didn’t get that far.” Eller clarified that it was a separate and unrelated to his injuries suffered earlier in the season, and that there would be nothing that required surgery.
Eller was also asked about Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin’s expiring contract, which will be arguably the biggest storyline of the team’s offseason. Eller sounded confident about the 2004 first overall pick being in the Capitals’ lineup in October:
“I don’t think we’ve thought that much about it. I just think the general feeling is probably everyone would be very surprised if Ovi isn’t going to be back. I don’t think you take it for granted, but you would be very surprised not to see him back. Ovi’s a little different in terms of his history here and him as a player and what he means to this club, so I hope to see him back, I really, really do, I would be surprised if that doesn’t happen, you never know, but I hope I have him as a teammate again next season.”
Eller also said that he will likely split the offseason between D.C. and his native Rodovre, Denmark, saying that he “definitely likes being here”.
Eller commented on the challenge the 2020-21 season provided with injuries, COVID-19 protocols, saying that missing time in the playoffs was the hardest to miss. He said that while players adapted to the routines, they all look forward to getting back “to some sort of normalcy and fans in the stands”, and that is something he missed this season.
Eller was asked about the pending Expansion Draft for the newly-minted Seattle Kraken in a few months and how different the Capitals might look taking into the salary cap constraints. Eller expressed confidence in the Caps having a competitive team in the fall:
“I haven’t thought too much about it in detail, but I think a lot of teams are going to be in that position where it’s a puzzle that maybe teams will have to move players they don’t really want to move, but they’re just forced to, but then again, I’ve never been through a season where there haven’t been changes going into next year. I’m very confident we’re still going to have a very competitive team next year, I hope to see most of my teammates back, but changes are probably going to be inevitable, so we’ll just wait to see what it’s going to be and how this expansion draft pans out.”
Eller commented on claims by some that the team’s championship window has closed, and the age of the Capitals’ core (they were the oldest team in the league this season), denying that it is the case:
“I don’t agree on that. I really don’t think the age of the players are that much of a factor, and you shouldn’t put too much into that but more look at the way they’re capable of playing and the numbers they can put up. I’m not too worried about that”.
Eller also referenced the Capitals’ second round loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017, after which the team lost a number of key players to free agency, only to win the Stanley Cup one year later.
Eller commented on the questioning of the team’s motivation and hunger after winning the Stanley Cup in 2018, saying, “I think it’s natural there’s going to be these questions, people are going to look for what went wrong, you’re going to try to dig for those answers. I’m certainly not happy with it too, it doesn’t sit right with me to hear it, ‘three first round exits’, I think our team is capable of more than that. But again, it’s not for me to speculate on. I can only speak for myself when I say I am, it hurts, it really hurts, after third year in a row, it’s not fun. I want to play deep into the summer. I want to play for another Cup as much as I’ve ever wanted. My hunger hasn’t changed….”
By Michael Fleetwood