Lars Eller won’t be making as much money as Jaroslav Halak, but the Canadiens forward isn’t complaining about his new contract.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin announced Thursday afternoon that the club has agreed to terms on a new four-year contract with the 25-year-old centre. The deal is worth $14 million, paying Eller $2.5 million in each of the first two seasons and $4.5 million in last two.
For many, the Danish centre’s name will always be linked to Halak, the goaltender the Canadiens traded to St. Louis in the summer of 2010 in exchange for Eller, who was the Blues’ first-round pick (13th overall) at the 2007 National Hockey League draft. While goalie Carey Price has since become the “thoroughbred” former Canadiens GM Bob Gainey promised he would be, Halak has bounced around since leaving Montreal. Last season, Halak was traded twice in five days, going from the Blues to Buffalo on March 1 and then to the Washington Capitals on March 5 without ever playing a game for the Sabres. The New York Islanders acquired Halak’s rights from the Capitals on May 1 and signed him to a four-year, $18-million contract.
Eller realizes his new $14-million deal will bring added pressure in the Montreal spotlight — David Desharnais, who is one year into his own four-year, $14-million contract, can tell him all about that.
“A lot of times your salary and your expectations and pressure go hand-in-hand and I’ve seen that here in Montreal,” Eller said during a conference call Thursday afternoon while he was at the Toronto airport waiting for a flight home to Denmark. “But I put a lot of pressure on myself, too. I think it also speaks to how much the organization believes in me and has faith in me. It’s really nice to know that they’re behind me and they’ve shown me that faith and now it’s up to me to go out and play the best hockey I can.”
The new contract avoids a salary arbitration hearing that was scheduled for Friday. On Wednesday, the Canadiens submitted a one-year offer of $1.65 million to the arbitrator, while Eller was looking for $3.1 million. Eller earned $1.5 million last season when he had 12 goals and 14 assists in 77 regular-season games and followed that up with a strong performance in the playoffs, scoring five goals and adding eight assists in 17 games as the Canadiens advanced to the Eastern Conference final.
“We are very pleased to have agreed upon a long-term agreement with Lars Eller,” Bergevin said in a statement. “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.”
P.K. Subban, the Canadiens’ remaining restricted free agent, has an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 1.
Eller said he’s happy to be staying in Montreal, adding he was prepared to go through with an aribration hearing if necessary.
“This is the place I want to be,” the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder said. “Four years was a term that both sides had been working on for quite some time.”
Eller added that his strong playoff performance helped his situation.
“There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “But this goes longer than just one playoff. It’s a relationship … I’ve been here for four years now and Marc and the whole management knows me. We got to know each other well and they know what they have in me and I know what I have in them. Like I said, it’s more than just one playoff and one regular season.”
Eller plans to celebrate his new contract this weekend back home in Denmark and will be back in the gym on Monday before hitting the ice in a couple of weeks.
When asked what part of his game he needs to work on the most, Eller said: “I think the No. 1 thing for me is consistency. I know when I’m on top of my game there’s not much I want to change. I want to improve every area, but most of all consistency. And I still think there’s something to gain in my offensive part of the game and that’s probably where I can improve the most, but I need to improve every area of my game.”
The Canadiens now have Max Pacioretty signed through the 2018-19 season, Eller, Price and defenceman Alexei Emelin through 2017-18, and Desharnais and Andrei Markov through 2016-17.
“To have a successful team you have to have a good mix of veterans and good young players that want to move forward,” Eller said. “And I certainly think that’s the situation here in Montreal.
“I could rack up a lot of names of good young players that are going to be the core going forward, but I won’t mention anybody so I don’t leave anybody out. But yes, we do have a really good core of young players that took a big step forward this year. But you need those veterans to have a complete team.
“We’re going to keep building and keep growing in Montreal and the future looks bright, I think.”
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