Let’s take a quick trip to the past, the 2016 NHL Draft to be exact. The Washington Capitals were coming off a disappointing game six overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs in a year where they soared high above all the other teams and claimed the President’s Trophy (shocking, I know).
After the loss, Barry Trotz and Brian MacLellan made comments on what they believed was ultimately the downfall of the Capitals. The word “speed” was thrown around quite a bit, it was something the Penguins possessed and the Capitals did not.
MacLellan set out to acquire a fast skater to give the Capitals a bit of a boost if they were to play the Penguins again the following season in the playoffs. There were two names originally linked to the Capitals as good signings to improve speed. Michael Grabner and Darren Helm were both available and fairly cheap at the time. Grabner is known as one of the fastest skaters in the league and made the most sense for the Capitals at the time.
However, the 2016 NHL Draft rolled around, and the Capitals made a pretty big move for their future third line center, Lars Eller. Eller cost the Capitals two 2nd round picks in 2017 and 2018, which I still to this day believe is a little too much for a third line center. However, I am no NHL GM, and I may never be one, so I can’t say I would have been able to pull off a better trade.
Eller came to Washington with a cap hit of 3.5 million dollars, which isn’t bad for a third line center, but considering that Lars isn’t exactly the fast player the Capitals were looking for, it seemed the money could have been spent on actually upgrading the speed within the lineup. In his first season with the Capitals, Eller played all but one game and scored 12 goals and tacked on 13 assists for a grand total of 25 points. Not the most impressive goal scorer, but his play did help lift the Capitals to another President’s Trophy. On the other hand, since joining the Capitals, Eller has been a possession monster.
Eller finished the season with a CF% (Corsi For) of 53.8%. For those who aren’t familiar with this stat, it basically means that the Capitals were controlling the puck more often than not when that specific player was on the ice. Anything above 50% is considered good.
In his 6 years spent in Montreal he finished the season above 50% 3 times, which averaged out to 49.5% throughout those 6 years. In a season and a half with Washington, Eller has an average CF% of 52.8%, which is a telling sign for the kind of player Eller is. He’s not quick, and he doesn’t have an Ovechkin like shot, but he is a puck monster and he drives play when he’s on the ice. In just 43 games this season Eller has recorded 8 goals and 12 assists for a total of 20 points, which is 5 points away from his points total from last season.
Despite not being the fast player the Caps front office had desired, they got something of equal value in Lars Eller.
Eller has been a pleasant surprise, especially this season, and he’s on pace to break his career high points total (30). While they could have signed Darren Helm or Michael Grabner to a contract instead of giving up 2 high draft picks, I feel as if the Eller trade was the better choice. Darren Helm has turned in 30 points in 90 games since resigning with the Detroit Red Wings.
Meanwhile in New York, Michael Grabner has turned in 118 games for the Rangers, and has scored 62 points since signing with them as a free agent. Eller has only scored a total of 45 points for the Capitals throughout a span of 124 games, but he has a far better CF% than both Grabner and Helm. Since signing their new contracts, Grabner and Helm have an average CF% of 45.2% and 48% respectively, while Eller has an average CF% of 52.8. So while Eller may not be as flashy of a goal scorer as Grabner, he’s benefiting his team more when he’s on the ice.
Eller has also earned the nickname “Tiger” from his teammates, and when he scores at home, Eye of the Tiger can be heard playing throughout the arena. Whether or not Eller stays in Washington after his contract expires this season is unknown, but he’s making a great case for a new contract in the league. That’s Tiger Style, baby.