The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign. The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.
Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.
Today's move: Trading for Lars Eller
Throughout the playoff series against Pittsburgh, one thing was abundantly clear: the Caps needed more scoring depth in the bottom six.
The Caps have the skill to match any team in the NHL on the top two lines, but it was the Penguins’ third line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel that truly tipped the scales in their favor.
No other team had that kind of scoring depth.
In their never-ending quest for the Stanley Cup, the Caps needed more offense from their bottom two lines.
Jay Beagle played well last season and though he wants to play on the third line, he’s a better option on the fourth. If given the choice between an average third line center or a great fourth line center, the choice is clear. Strengthen the fourth line and bring in someone who can bolster the third.
Brian MacLellan did just that by trading for Lars Eller.
Eller’s time in Montreal got off to a rocky start as he was traded from St. Louis to the Canadiens in the deal that sent hero netminder (and Capitals' playoff nemesis) Jaroslav Halak out of Montreal. He then had to deal with a constantly changing offensive lineup that at times saw him frequently matched with different linemates.
There were even times he moved from center to wing.
Despite flashes of brilliance, Eller has tallied 30 points only once in his career and has never scored more than 16 goals in a season. Yet, his offensive production is still better than that of Beagle and it should go up with a better offensive lineup and the stability he should get in Washington. He is also a very good possession player and managed to maintain solid possession numbers in Montreal despite shuffling through linemates.
Eller’s highlights and stats seem to tell two different stories.
When you watch him, he looks like a 20 goal scorer. It’s surprising that he hasn’t had more offensive production given his talent, but that may have a lot to do with the instability of Montreal’s lineup.
Washington will be different. Eller was brought in to be the third line center and, barring injury, that’s exactly what he will be. The lines will shuffle now and again with the normal ups and downs of an 82 game season, but he will see more stability in Washington than he ever had in Montreal. He will certainly not be asked to play wing any time soon.
Eller is an offensive threat with fantastic stick-handling abilities. He drives possession and has good positioning even without the puck on his stick. He checks off every box on the Caps’ wish list but two: speed and cost.
It would not be fair to call Eller slow, but no one would say that Eller has blazing speed either. Heading into the offseason, the Caps wanted to get faster in response to the speed they saw from Pittsburgh. Eller does not make them a faster team.
That’s not the end of the world. The Caps are clearly a better team offensively with Eller on the third line and Beagle on the fourth. What really bumps this grade down, however, is what it cost to get him.
Two second-round draft picks is high for a player you’re planning on plugging into the third line. Montreal didn’t help matters by trading for Andrew Shaw on the very same day for the exact same cost, two second-round draft picks.
As good as Eller is and as good as he will be with the Caps, Shaw is better and younger. Eller’s cost seemed high initially and that was confirmed by the fact that the same price netted Montreal and even better return.
No one will care about those draft picks if Eller proves to be the key piece in a Capitals Cup run, but that loss will sting the next two years come draft time.