Forward Lars Eller and the Montreal Canadiens have agreed to terms on a four-year contract, the team announced Thursday. No financial details were released, but Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette reported the total value to be $14 million, an average annual value of $3.5 million.
"I'm very happy to be a Canadien for the next four years. This is the place I want to be," Eller said. "Four years was a term that both sides have been working on for quite some time."
The 25-year-old Dane had 12 goals and 26 points in 77 regular-season games in 2013-14 but found his stride in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His five playoff goals were second on the Canadiens to Rene Bourque's eight, and his 13 points trailed only defenseman P.K. Subban's 14.
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Eller is established as a responsible defensive center and has shown he can produce offensively when matched with the proper linemates. Playing between Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, Eller completed the 2012-13 season by scoring six points in his last three regular-season games. When the line was reunited to start the 2013-14 season, Eller scored four goals and six points in his first three games.
But as the season progressed, Eller centered a rotating cast of wings and slumped offensively, including a 24-game span when he produced one point.
"I think the No. 1 one thing for me is consistency. I want to improve every area, but most of all consistency," Eller said. "I still think there's something to gain in my offensive part of the game. That's probably where I can improve the most, but I need to improve every area of my game."
A 2007 first-round pick (No. 13) of the St. Louis Blues, Eller was acquired by the Canadiens on June 17, 2010, as part of the trade that sent goaltender Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis.
"We are very pleased to have agreed upon a long-term agreement with Lars Eller," general manager Marc Bergevin said. "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."
The signing avoided a salary arbitration hearing that was scheduled for Friday.
"Once you file, you know it is a possibility, so you just have to be realistic with that. If I wasn't fine with that, then I wouldn't have filed," Eller said. "Going to arbitration was really more of a last resort if all other options failed. It's not something we wanted to do, but if we had to we would have."
The Canadiens locked up a part of the young talent that helped lead Montreal to the Eastern Conference Final, where it lost in six games to the New York Rangers. Subban is arguably the biggest part of that group and is Montreal's last remaining restricted free agent. His arbitration hearing is scheduled for Aug. 1.
"We do have a really good core of young players that took a big step forward this year. But you need those veterans too to have a complete team," Eller said. "We're going to keep building and keep growing in Montreal. The future looks bright, I think."