Jan 2, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Montreal Canadiens center Lars Eller (81) skates in warm-ups prior to the game against the Dallas Stars during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Canadiens defeated the Stars 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Centre of Attention

Four years and one week ago, the Canadiens traded Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. (Schultz is currently unsigned and inactive.)

It was a move that is not uncommonly seen in the NHL: a surprise star in the playoffs picks up the slack in place of slumping star and then gets dealt in the summer. That is what happened to Halak after 2010 playoffs where he took over in the first round series against the Capitals. The rest of the way he was virtually unbeatable, stealing the show and taking the Canadiens all the way to game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final where they would lose to the Flyers. That summer both Halak and Price were set to become RFAs.

Fans were resolved. After a performance like Halak’s, it was impossible to imagine his departure. But the Canadiens had other plans in mind. They elected to make a move which would infuriate the fans in the present and invigorate them in the future. They chose Carey Price.

In the waking hours of the news, which had completely swamped all the hockey news networks, there was tremendous outrage in Montreal. No one could believe their eyes and ears. People wanted the Canadiens’ Pierre Gauthier and Bob Gainey’s heads on a spike. But as it turned out, keeping Carey Price may be the one and only good thing Pierre Gauthier did for this organization. It was a reminder to us all that sometimes we need to trust that the many people behind the closed doors know a thing or two about hockey. (Although, Pierre Gauthier was still a halfwit.)

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

There were two major points of anger for the Montreal fans: one was they could not believe Halak would be traded after the legendary performance he had displayed out on the ice; two was what the team got in return. People felt the deal was rushed and people felt there was a lack of judgement and thought on the management’s part with regard to the trade. The return for the Halak-Ness Monster seemed less than equitable. Lars Eller was essentially a guy no one had ever heard of. You have to be kidding, right?

Well now, much to all the angry mob’s dismay, the Canadiens are a team that should be competing for a berth in the Stanley Cup Final in the coming years, and it is in large part thanks to the trade that people were saying was as bad as the Gretzky fiasco. Seems a little much now, does it not?

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Carey Price is arguably the best goaltender in the world. Thanks St. Louis. He won Olympic Gold this year in Sochi backstopping one of the best-formed Canadian rosters in Olympic history and put up outstanding numbers during the season, while partially fighting through injury. He was spectacular in the playoffs and in my mind should be also Vezina candidate (which is solely based on regular season play). Carey Price is our team. Goalies like him are true rarities in the NHL. Teams try to get their hands on them for years — decades even. We are lucky to have struck gold.

Now we have Lars Eller. The Dane was unfortunately plagued with being the bait with which Halak was caught. To make things harder on him, he was a first-round pick in 2007 (13th overall). He would have had high expectations even as a 7th rounder, or even as an undrafted 22 year-old. But being traded for Halak and being a first-rounder meant he had a lot to one day deliver. He was drafted six years ago and is just coming into his own now.

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Prospects all take different developmental routes to the NHL. Some flourish when thrust into action months after their draft day, and some take the time to develop in junior and in the AHL until they are ready to come into the league with a bang. Nathan MacKinnon would be an example of the former, and Ryan Johansen an example of the latter.

Lars Eller looks like he is ready to take on a major role at centre for the Canadiens now. He had a great start to the regular season, but then struggled down the stretch finishing with 12 goals and 24 points in 77 games. His playoffs though, were a brilliant rebound, where he posted 13 points in 17 games while averaging around 16 and a half minutes of ice time per game. He is a true two-way centre with the ability to create offense in the attacking zone. Now he checks in at 6’2″ 215 which means he can take on a more physical role as well. He has all the makings of a dominant centre in the NHL.

In review, the Blues now do not even have Halak, much less any goaltender at the moment, and we in Montreal have a budding star in Lars Eller. All it cost us was a player who has since been turned into nothing but a distant memory.

Is there room for Lars Eller to grow? He is currently the team’s third centre. David Desharnais and Tomas Plekanec are one and two. Habs fans are always crying out for the Canadiens to go out and get a large, dominant two-way centre. Well, maybe the Canadiens already have one waiting to step into the spotlight. We shall see how Michel Therrien and the coaching staff decide to use Lars Eller has he continues to grow. But one thing is for sure: competition in the lineup is never a bad thing.

*Maybe the same thing that happened with Halak could happen with Dustin Tokarski

 

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