Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Eller's Burden

From the moment he became a member of the Montreal Canadiens, Lars Eller has been tied to expectations. It was an unusual situation for a young man of 21 years to step into in the biggest hockey mad city in the world. Made more unusual by the fact that he was coming in from Peoria.

The expectations are both good and bad ones. The certainty being that a lot of people feel they have a lot at stake in the case of Lars Eller.

The history that preceded the acquisition of Lars Eller is well known.

Montreal's highest draft pick in years gets his start, "wins" the starting role and a boatload of fans, experiences growing pains, is outplayed for a season and a half, and is unseated. Those were the real-life events.

The history of the sideshow that accompanied it saw the spawning of a fierce debate that raged for the whole period, placing an oft united fanbase in different camps.

The culmination of the story was that Eller trade, or so one would have thought. That was of course the end of the real-life events in this saga.

But the sideshow lingered and lingered long. Camps did not disband quickly and a summer of questions about rodeos, autograph signings and organizational priorities raged.

The sideshow once seemed to have its end too.

Carey Price had a season for the ages, getting everything but the Vezina nomination and playoff round victory he roundly deserved. Jaroslav Halak was starter, but not starter extraordinaire for St. Louis. Perhaps this chapter of it has ended. It seems fair to me, if not a bit early given our lectures about looking beyond single seasons, to deem that of the two goalies Montreal made the right choice. At least I feel that Montreal in this docket made a right choice, both goalies likely to be capable starters for years to come.

But for Lars Eller, it seems the book is not closed.

After Ian Schultz, despite a brief rush to his side, predictably became a forgotten Canadien, Lars Eller remains the return for a trade of one of the hottest trade chips that a Montreal GM has held in years.

For this reason, and because Halak had gathered quite a camp calling for his long future with the club, Eller continues to face judgment. For this reason, and because planting seeds of doubt about Halak constituted a major political strategy of those in parts of another camp, Eller continues to be held to lofty heights.

To further vindicate this following, Eller has to be good.

To hold back the disgruntled, Eller has to be good.

To prevent stories about how Ottawa pried the hot commodity, David Rundblad, from St. Louis days after Gauthier's transaction, Eller has to be good.

To put off thoughts of a Colorado high first rounder taken for an RFA goalie, Eller has to be good.

Every time, I read a review of Eller, I am given to thinking about inflation of events. The question of whether he is good, or will be good, or can just be good at being average seems forever be coloured by these concerns.

I like a good battle in the corner as much as the next guy, but rarely have I seen Habs fans get too excited about a young man who can do this effectively. I enjoy a winning match-up on the fourth line, but seldom have I seen ink spilled on the topic till now. Little steps in the right direction for Eller don't go unnoticed, little they may be.

My take on the poor guy is that there is no question he is good enough to make a living in the NHL, but there is a lot of question as to whether that living will ever be made as a top 6 forward. My take is that he has some laudable talents, notably his willingness to take scrub roles, but that like all prospects he may not last the onslaught of those coming behind him.

My take is that he could probably do without all this baggage that is attached to his name, but that it would take a bit of doing to uncouple himself.

For Lars Eller, it's a consequence of changing from Peoria blue to Montreal red.

But us fans, forever in red. Should we just not abandon these thoughts and move on? Should we not forego the battlefields already won/lost? Should we not just let Lars Eller be the player he looks like he will be? Lift his burden?

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