Loui Eriksson is proof positive that bad things can happen to good people, but the best of them can use that adversity as an opportunity to adapt, overcome and ultimately reinvent themselves. Back before the season began, I predicted that Eriksson would be a prime candidate to be traded at some point this season given his impending unrestricted free agent status next summer and the opportunity for the Bruins to move him in exchange for asset(s) that would benefit the team going forward.
With 11 games in the books and Eriksson contributing to his team’s fortunes in all aspects of the game, it might be time to revisit that position.
Eriksson was the centerpiece of Boston’s most controversial trade since Mike O’Connell shipped a 26-year-old, in-his-prime Joe Thornton to San Jose for three “JAGs” (just another guy) in Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau. The JAG moniker is not meant to be disrespectful to Sturm, as of the three he provided the most impact and valuable service for the Bruins from late 2005 until the team traded his rights to Los Angeles for cap relief during the 2010-11 campaign, but when you measure his contributions against those of Thornton with the Sharks, you get the idea. Like Sturm, Eriksson has been able to establish himself as a regular contributor in Boston, but as an identified key piece of the 2013 summer deal between Boston and Dallas, has not produced at anywhere near the pace of the young star Boston gave up for him.
In Eriksson’s case, he was part of a futures package that came to Boston in the exchange for Tyler Seguin– the well-away-from-his-prime wunderkind who has since proven that the fears of him not living up to expectations as the second overall pick in 2010 were unfounded. Even if Seguin’s off-ice discipline and overall maturity are still a work in progress, the hockey product is continuing to improve as he has emerged as one of the NHL’s brightest scoring stars since the start of 2013-14.
However, the point of this post is not to revisit Boston’s decision to trade a 21-year-old Seguin, or to debate the return from Big D. For Eriksson, he became a victim not only of two concussions that essentially cost him his first and arguably most important season in Boston, but also of an expectation bias that based on his track record, he had little chance of overcoming.
Eriksson first year in Boston was during the 2013-14 campaign, when the B’s offense was near the top en route to the franchise’s first President’s Trophy as top regular season club since 1989-90. On paper, his statistics reflect the time lost to head injuries and the likely effects he had to contend with after completing the NHL’s concussion protocol after both events. In missing 21 games, his 10 goals and 37 points ranked 10th on that team in scoring, with David Krejci finishing on top with 19 goals and 69 points in 80 contests. Both Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla tied for the team lead in goals with 30. His two goals and five points in 12 playoff games, added fuel to the fire that Eriksson was a player in decline and a poor return for Seguin.
In 2014-15, Eriksson provided more consistent offense on a non-playoff club, finishing second on the team in goals scored with 22 to Brad Marchand’s 24.
When looking at some of the more advanced analytics out there on Eriksson, the contrast between his 2013-14 even strength numbers and those of this season are pretty striking, and not in the way you might think. His goals and points/60 minutes in 5 on 5 play are actually higher in his first season- (0.63 and 1.73) than both last year’s 22-goal campaign (0.60 G/60 and 1.54 Points/60) and this season’s hot 11 points in 11 games (0.38 GF, 1.54 P/60). Eriksson was more effective offensively in that first year that many pointed to as an abject failure given Seguin’s offensive explosion (and ability to stay healthy).
Where Eriksson has raised the game is on the power play in 2015-16 compared to past seasons. In 37:48 on the ice with the man advantage thus far, he’s on pace to shatter his totals from his two previous seasons in Boston. His three goals and five points are already half of what he produced in 188+ minutes of 5v4 play a year ago, and he had a total of 11 points in 115 man advantage minutes in 2013-14. His goals and points/60 totals on the power play are 4.76 and 7.94 respectively, impressive when compared against the 1.91 and 3.18 from a year ago (remember he finished second on the team in goals, and his 47 points were second to Bergeron’s 55). Eriksson’s 5v4 numbers in 2013-4 are closer- just 1.04 goals/60 but his assist ratio was a significantly higher 4.66 giving him a 5.70 points/60 during that “failed” season. David Krejci’s numbers look like a guy at the top of Boston’s pay scale- his 5v4 goals and points/60 are even higher than Eriksson’s- 2.92 and 10.21.
Time will tell if Boston can sustain its blistering power play pace, but you figure Eriksson and his teammates will come back down to Earth at some point. For now, however, he is making his presence felt, which is important given that the man advantage is helping to offset the disastrous last-place PK for Boston.
Eriksson’s shots per game are down from what they were in the previous two seasons, but he’s making more plays to pass the puck to teammates who are finishing them off with goals. His individual Corsi rating is down because he’s simply not shooting as much as he has in the past, but expect that to balance out as the season goes on.
So, if you look at Eriksson’s consistent production across the two full seasons and early part of a third, he’s actually been a good value for his current cap hit of $4.25M. At age 30, he’s not getting any younger but when you compare him to Pittsburgh forward Patric Hornqvist, for example, his points/60 at even strength are comparable, but on the PP, Eriksson’s 7.94 far eclipses Hornqvist’s 2.46 (Hornqvist has played about 13 fewer minutes with the man advantage as Eriksson has). Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk both make the same coin and are well behind the older Eriksson in terms of their 5on5 and 5on4 production. Calgary’s Michael Frolik makes $4.3M and is well ahead at even strength P/60 with 3.00, but is a big goose egg on the PP.
So- given the loss of Chris Kelly to a fractured femur and the fact that Eriksson is not only providing production, but quiet leadership as a respected teammate, don’t be so quick to advocate for his departure. It is entirely possible that by the end of the season, assuming he can continue to perform on a similar trajectory, talk of a modest AAV increase with a reasonable term of let’s say- three years- gives Eriksson an opportunity to be part of a better solution than what we have seen to date in Boston.
I realize that for some in Boston- there is simply no getting around the fact that Eriksson is not the player Seguin is and there will be a desire to move on and invest that cash on someone else perhaps a little younger with a more intriguing upside than the ‘Steady Eddie’ (Loui) No. 21 has been for the Bruins. That’s a fair point, but be careful what you wish for. At this stage of his career, Eriksson’s value can be measured in more than the statistics, and he’s probably less interested in cashing in than being valued and a part of a team that could be putting pieces in place to get back onto the road of contention in another 1-2 years.
Even in his “worst” year as a Bruin, Eriksson was a consistent producer who doesn’t get enough credit for his defensive play and willingness to do the little things to help his team have success. Some of those things come at the price of gaudier numbers and his mediocre open-ice speed is a point that critics can effectively argue against.
When all is said and done- the Bruins will be faced with an interesting choice this season. Trade him to a contender in the spring time and likely get a seller’s price for him, or invest in him continuing to be a solid citizen and contributor and make the effort to keep him in the fold come free agency. He’s proven that his play is not a fluke- he may not be putting up the pure production he did earlier in his career, but he’s providing balance and consistency, which is important to any winning club.This isn’t a Gregory Campbell situation here- if people are honest with themselves, it’s readily apparent that Eriksson is a superior offensive player who is not too old to continue his career trends for another 3 or 4 years if he can avoid any more TBI.
The case to trade Eriksson if Boston is selling at the deadline or keep him around for the next organizational iteration is something that my surface-level analysis of just a very few statistics can’t come close to effectively arguing for or against, but you can bet that someone out there is crunching the numbers.