Dealing The Great Dane?: If And When The Capitals Will Trade Lars Eller

What a difference two weeks makes. Just a fortnight ago the Washington Capitals had a slew of unknowns regarding their lineup for the coming season. Two weeks later, there is a log jam at several positions. Whether you like the additions or not, the roster is full. In fact, it might be too full.

The Capitals lost the services of Tom Wilson for at least the first half of the season after he underwent knee surgery in June. As a result, right winger Connor brown was acquired last week in a trade with the Ottawa Senators, ending any concerns related to a right wing deficiency.

Nicklas Backstrom is also out for the foreseeable future, if not longer. To bolster the center position, the Capitals signed restricted free agent Dylan Strome, giving the Capitals at least five capable centers on their current roster. [Click to enlarge]

[Note: Henrik Borgstrom is most likely destined for Hershey when the season begins.]

Lars Eller is likely the eventual odd man out. His performance dipped again last season, recording 13 goals and 18 assists in 72 games for a .43 points per game average in the 2021-22 season. He recorded eight goals and 15 assists in 44 games for a .52 points per game average the previous season.

Eller is in the final year of his current deal with the Capitals, making a trade even more likely. One way or another, his time in DC is likely drawing to a close. The question is when?

Old Dogs And New Tricks

Following the Capitals first round loss to the Panthers in May, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan was asked if the team was slow and needed an infusion of speed. He disagreed. “I think we need a youth injection more than a speed injection. I’m not buying that we’re slow” said MacLellan. “Speed wise, I don’t know that Florida is faster than us. I think they maybe play a little faster, but actual speed, I think we’re just as fast as them.”

The average age of the Capitals roster is among the oldest in the NHL, and MacLellan has stated he wants to address team age this offseason. Eller, 33, could be seen as an aging component that could be easily replaced by Connor McMichael, or even Aliaksei Protas, both just 21 years of age.

The acquisition of Brown and Strome can also be seen a a combined future replacement of Eller. Strome could eventually end up centering the third line as the season progresses and players return from injury, but just as important, Connor Brown, a strong penalty killer for Ottawa, would likely replace Eller on the Capitals penalty kill.

Timing Is Key

The safe play is to start training camp in September with Eller in the fold, and make a call regarding McMichael and Protas’ ability to take over the position by the end of camp. McMichael will have a lot to say on the timing of a potential deal.

If Laviolette and McLellan determine that they still haven’t seen enough from McMichael and Protas by the end of training camp, it’s likely Eller begins the season with the Capitals. The ideal scenario at that point is the youth eventually prove they are ready to take over by New Years. Eller would be subsequently dealt before the trade deadline.

It’s A Matter Of When

Eller will always be a legend in Capitals lore. His goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2018 has assured him free beer in DC for eternity. Unfortunately, as we all know, transition is a perpetual component of the NHL lifecycle, and father time is undefeated.

Eller will likely be traded. There is a slight chance the Capitals feel comfortable enough right now to make a deal this summer, however, the safest play is to wait until training camp and see how McMichael and Protas are progressing, and make a decision before opening night.

If Eller remains with the team to start the season, it’s most likely he will be dealt before the trade deadline, in order to get something in return. After the trade deadline he essentially becomes a free agent and there will be no return for the Capitals.

There is always a chance that Eller remains for the entire season, which would be a mixed bag of meaning. It would mean the kids couldn’t step up, or the Capitals and Eller are having a dominant season and Laviolette and McLellan don’t want to mess with success, at any cost.

When Will the Capitals trade Lars Eller?

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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15 Responses to Dealing The Great Dane?: If And When The Capitals Will Trade Lars Eller

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sad but true. Thanks for everything Lars!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Lars!

  3. Larry says:

    Father time always wins

  4. Mike J says:

    Eller/Mojo at the deadline for an inflated price would be solid to continue to build for the future. I’d like to see what they looks like in the 4th line wing spot until then though unless CMM and AJF blow their overpriced vet safety nets away in training camp.

  5. Agree with that take. In my opinion, McMichael MUST have a bigger role (even if he works his way there) this season to benefit his development. Two different styles, but I always think of Wilson’s botched development and how it took him some time to reach top-line caliber. The kids obviously have to do work as well, but for me the Caps have to start focusing on development of their prospects even more now given the core is even older. This season is going to be a massive step for the franchise.

    • steven says:

      No one can learn their job without consistant play. So playing him once or twice a week and most of the time out of position did him no favors. But that is what you get when you have a HC who doesnt like to play young players.

  6. Lance says:

    Eller is still a good 3C. He does everything well. I wouldn’t trade unless I was getting plenty of value back.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I think Lars will be traded assuming Backy is ready…

    By the time the trade DL comes, CM will be ready…

  8. Chris C. says:

    I personally don’t think McMichael will pan out. Trade him and McMichael for prospects and draft picks.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I think CM needs to start at 3C and go ahead and trade Lars now. Hopefully, our GM is just lying about playing CM at wing, just so other teams don’t realize our intent. CM has shown little promise as a goal scorer, and is much more valuable as a C with his speed and assist ability

  10. DWGie26 says:

    Will be sad to see Lars go, but it is a law of numbers right now.

    I sit in the other camp of CMM development and think Caps have handled it well even though i know that isn’t a popular opinion. Kid is 21 and usually wouldn’t even be in the NHL yet. He has played well enough, but still young and green. PL gave him sheltered minutes on the wing to give him minutes and learn from Lara. He started playing center to give him a taste there and he rose to the occasion. But remember this with PL (or any coach that is playing for a championship… ROOKIES HAVE TO EARN IT. I think he took huge strides last year. It is up to him, but I personally think we can treat him like Fever this year (who did it as 22). I think he can play 82 games+ at 3C this year (not last).

    And if he falters you have Protas, Lapierre, and Mojo who can play some games at center when there is an injury or CMM needs to watch a couple of games. There is risk there but I’m ready to take that risk.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I’m in your camp as well, DWG. Having tracked/watch C-Mac since his draft day, watching all of his OHL and AHL games, it;s clear he quickly adapts and excels at all levels.

      He has super reaction times. I slowed down his work around the goal mouth, and he is always the first to be moving towards a bouncing puck in the crease. That will work at all levels.

      • DWGie26 says:

        I have noticed he really has great net front presence. Did you notice if he gets sucked up there in the crease and gets caught behind the play going in other direction? I ask, because i know this drives coaches nuts and could be one of the reasons he was sheltered. I don’t really know, but sounds like you took a closer look.

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