HabsWorld.net -- 

With Lars Eller’s arbitration hearing set to happen on Friday morning, the
Habs are running out of time to ink him to a long-term deal.  After several
up-and-down seasons, there are two questions that come up.  Should they ink
him for several years and if so, what would the contract be worth?  The
first is a matter of opinion so let’s focus on the second one and try to
identify a fair market value for Eller long-term.

The first place to start is to look for comparables.  For this, I looked
at players with somewhat comparable points-per-game over the past three years
for Eller as well as those who played a similar role last season.  This
includes not only total ice time but special teams time and overall role on the
team (2nd/3rd line ‘tweeners’).  Stats are for the regular season only.

Lars Eller, Montreal

Age: 25
Points per game averages: 0.34 (2013-14), 0.65 (2012-13), 0.35 (2011-12)
2013-14 ice time per game: 15:57 total, 1:24 SH, 1:09 PP
Contract: RFA, prior cap hit was $1.325 M, signed age 23


Michael Grabner, NY Islanders

Age: 26
Points per game averages: 0.41 (2013-14), 0.47 (2012-13), 0.41 (2011-12)
2013-14 ice time per game: 14:11 total, 2:03 SH, 0:16 PP
Contract: $3 M for 5 years, signed age 24

Lauri Korpikoski, Arizona

Age: 27
Points per game averages: 0.39 (2013-14), 0.31 (2012-13), 0.45 (2011-12)
2013-14 ice time per game: 16:04 total, 2:01 SH, 0:48 PP
Contract: $2.5 M for 4 years, signed age 27

Devin Setoguchi, UFA

Age: 27
Points per game averages: 0.36 (2013-14), 0.56 (2012-13), 0.52 (2011-12)
2013-14 ice time per game: 15:03 total, 0:51 SH, 1:47 PP
Contract: UFA, prior cap hit was $3 M, signed age 24

Brandon Sutter, Pittsburgh

Age: 25
Points per game averages: 0.32 (2013-14), 0.40 (2012-13), 0.39 (2011-12)
2013-14 ice time per game: 15:46 total, 2:18 SH, 1:05 PP
Contract: RFA, prior cap hit was $2.067 M, signed age 22

All of the above players were also first round picks with the perception that
they have underwhelmed offensively relative to where they were picked. 
It’s fair to say that this statement also applies to Eller who has yet to put
together any sort of consistent offensive output.

These contracts were all signed when the salary cap was $64.3 million. 
As we all know, the upper limit for next season is at $69 million, a 7.3%
increase.  So to compare the cap hits for the comparables to the financial
situation in which Eller’s deal will be done, it would be wise to boost the
comparable cap hits by that same rate.  That brings the range of comparison
to $2,217,500 to $3,219,000. 

As any long-term deal is going to buy out UFA years (Eller is two years away
from becoming eligible) coupled with the expected uptick in future upper limits
as the rest of the new TV money comes into play, there’s a good chance that the
back years of the deal would exceed the $3.219 M from the group of comparable
players.  The overall cap hit, however, should fall in the above range as
the two RFA years would bring the AAV down.

Rest assured that Eller’s representation will also be using his postseason
performance to argue for a notable raise.  However, Marc Bergevin’s counter
would likely revolve around the fact that Eller finished 280th in the league in
scoring in 2013-14 and has not yet eclipsed the 30 point plateau in his career. 

So just how much is Eller worth?  Here are my guesses on what the cap
hit will be, depending on the term of the deal:

1 year: No higher than $2.25 million, likely closer to $2 million
2 years: Between $2.4 and $2.8 million
3 years: Between $2.8 and $3.2 million
4 years: Between $3.2 and $3.5 million

If it’s a one year deal through arbitration*, I have a hard time thinking the
arbitrator will award more than a 50% raise on Eller’s $1.5 M salary last
season.  Thus, I can’t see the Habs agreeing to more than that prior to the
hearing.  If more years are tacked on in the settlement, however, then next
year’s salary could jump past that mark.  At the back end, while the $3.5
million exceeds the high point of the range from the comparable players, the cap
appears to be pegged to go up by at least 15-20% between now and the next four
years.  As a result, I have to expect that the latter year(s) of a
long-term pact will be in the mid-to-high $3 million range. 

* – As Eller was the one to file for arbitration, it’s the Habs who can
make the decision as to whether the award from the arbitrator is for one or two
years.  As a two year deal would take him right into unrestricted free
agency (which isn’t in Montreal’s best interest), I’m only considering the
possibility of a one year contract being awarded.

Getting a long-term deal done seldom is an easy proposition for teams but it
seems particularly difficult in Eller’s case.  Is he the player we saw
during the season who would go weeks without contributing or is it the
postseason one who rarely went more than a few shifts without doing something
positive?  The answer probably is somewhere in the middle and whether or
not a deal gets done will depend on how close Bergevin and Eller’s agent can get
to agreeing on where that middle is exactly.  If not, we’ll know his new
one year deal by this time next week.