Today, the Montreal Canadiens re-signed defensive-specialist Lars Eller to a four-year, $14 million contract. It may seem a bit high for a forward that only put up 26 points last season, but players like Eller bring more to the ice than what simply shows up on the stat sheet. Whenever a team finds a young player with tremendous hockey IQ and the knowledge and ability to play solid defense against opposing top lines, they will do everything in their power to keep that young player around. Montreal was able to keep their defensive center for another four years, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are hoping Eller’s deal will set precedent for negotiations with their young defensive specialist, Brandon Sutter.
“We are very pleased to have agreed upon a long term agreement with Lars Eller. He is an important part of our group of young veterans. He has a tremendous work ethic and a great attitude. He is the type of player you can rely on for his play at both ends of the rink. Lars can play big minutes against the opponents’ top players and still be an offensive threat. We are confident he will reach his full potential and become an impact player who will compete at a high level for many years to come”, said Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin.
Lars Eller showed a glimpse of what his full potential may be in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, where he put up 30 points in 46 games. It was a big step forward from his previous season, where he put up two less points in 33 more games, and there was hope that the 2012-2013 season was a breakout season for the young forward. However, it was not to be. This past season, Eller put up 26 points in 77 games and finished -15 at the end of the year, a terrible stat line for a defensive forward. However, it was his play in the playoffs that earned him this new deal. In 17 playoff games last year, Eller ranked second on the Canadiens with 13 points, while being tasked with shutting down some of the star players for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, and New York Rangers.
Another forward is hoping his playoff performance will earn him not only a new deal, but a new role. Brandon Sutter has played the third line defensive specialist for the Pittsburgh Penguins ever since he was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2009. The Penguins dealt Jordan Staal to the Hurricanes, who was apparently unhappy playing third fiddle behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the depth chart. Now, it appears the same complaints are surfacing with Brandon Sutter.
Rumor has it that Brandon Sutter has already turned down three offers for a contract extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The offers were allegedly a one-year deal for $2.75 million, a two-year deal for $6 million, and a four-year deal worth $15 million, a better deal than what Lars Eller accepted. Some have taken the apparent refusal to sign an extension as a sign that Sutter is looking for another team to play for, preferably in a Top 6 role.
The Eller deal does give the Penguins a point to negotiate from with their young player, but only if the issue is a matter of money. If Sutter is unhappy in his role and looking for a way to move into the Top 6, there is not much Pittsburgh can do. He simply has not shown the offensive talent to play in that role on a top-heavy team like the Penguins, and Pittsburgh will have to overpay him to keep him in his 3rd line role, something they cannot afford to do.
The Montreal Canadiens are happy to have their defensive specialist under contract for an additional four years, but their new deal may have put the Penguins between a rock and a hard place. Eller’s new deal sets a precedent for Sutter’s extension, given their similar styles of play. However, since Brandon Sutter has reportedly turned down a deal larger than the one given to Lars Eller, it paints a grim picture for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
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Commentary by Jonathan Gardner