Loui Eriksson…on the block or not on the block? (credit SAP clips on YouTube)
Sign him to an extension now or take what you can get while his value is high?
Keep him for the stretch drive and then flip his rights to a team serious about committing money and term to him for a pick in the days prior to the start of unrestricted free agency?
These are just three of the options facing the Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney as the team sits in second place in an albeit mediocre Atlantic Division as we draw closer to the Feb 29 NHL trade deadline.
Let me start by saying this: Eriksson is a fine player and has been a model citizen for the Bruins since they traded for him on Independence Day, 2013. He’s on pace for 30 goals for the first time since he scored 36 in his breakout with the Dallas Stars in 2008-09. His 20 goals in 57 games is double his total in 61 games his first season in Boston, when he suffered two concussions over the course of the year that forced him out of 21 contests. Back in 2014, the trade that centered around Eriksson as the main return from Dallas was looking like an abject disaster with his 10 goals and 37 points, followed by just two goals and 5 points in Boston’s disappointing 12-game playoff run that ended in a second-round defeat to their arch nemesis Montreal Canadiens.
After a season ago with the offense-starved B’s, Eriksson was one of the club’s most consistent scorers, tallying 22 goals and 47 points to finish second on the club behind Patrice Bergeron. This year, and at age 30, Loui has been even better- not only hitting the 20-goal mark for the sixth time in his nine NHL campaigns. Eriksson is smart, industrious and excels in boosting Boston’s possession game when he is on the ice. He goes to the net with his stick down and gets a lot of his goals on deflections or redirections because he always seems to be in the right place at the right time to make a play. Eriksson is not the flashiest or dynamic of forwards- he has just average speed and lacks a breakaway gear, especially as he moves forward on the other side of 30, but for the students of the game who closely watch for the little things that make a difference- the stick positioning, the high percentage passing, the responsibility with and without the puck.
Setting all of that aside, the question that Sweeney and Co. must ask themselves: Is Eriksson worth the investment in cap dollars and term it will take to keep him in Boston? In terms of the current calendar year, the answer is almost certainly an unequivocal yes- the veteran is one of three 20-goal scorers on the team, has always been one of the most respected players in the room since he arrived to the TD Garden, and does a lot of little things that have been instrumental in the team’s 30+ wins in a year where expectations were admittedly lower on this end, especially the way things started out.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, the GM has to take a longer view and make a tougher call here. One of the things that got Peter Chiarelli in trouble and why he’s the former GM of the Boston Bruins is that he invested a large chunk of the team’s salary cap dollars on aging, limited return on investment players on the wrong side of 30. At the time, all of the questionable contracts that ultimately came to a head in the 2014-15 season which ended with his dismissal (and subsequent move to Edmonton where he was given the keys to that dysfunctional kingdom) made sense in the short term. You have to think Sweeney, who has been with the B’s since the beginning of Chiarelli’s tenure a decade ago, remembers that and also understands Albert Einstein’s famous quote about the definition of insanity.
One of the problems with the NHL’s current salary structure is that the no-trade clause has almost become a routine mechanism to ensure that important players don’t decline a team’s extension offer and hit the open market. Outside of management and Eriksson’s agent, veteran negotiator JP Barry, none of us are privy to the talks that have taken place to determine the right wing’s status. A reasonable assumption therefore can be made that in addition to the rumored money and term (5-6 years and somewhere around $6 million AAV), Barry would also want to maintain Eriksson’s no-trade status if not escalate that into a no-movement clause for the first two years of the extension.
If that’s the case, then the Bruins need to swallow hard, wish Eriksson well and get the best deal they can for him at the Feb 29 deadline. Even with the rumors of prices being down, someone will give Boston a good return for him, though fans should steel themselves for the return being for future assets and not NHL roster-ready players. In other words- the B’s will be harder-pressed to get that young defenseman that is so crucial to the team’s way ahead in a deal for Eriksson alone. Assuming he’s moved as a rental piece, the best Boston can hope for is that late 1st-round selection in a contender’s spot at 25-30 that has become standard fare, or perhaps a middle tier prospect with some upside or some kind of combination of both.
But, I learned that in Army, promotions are given based on what the organization believes you have the potential to contribute at that next rank, not because of what you did at your current level. Of course, in order to secure that promotion, the board members who determine who makes the cut and who doesn’t have to look at what you accomplished in the past and more weight is placed on your most recent performance.
To put it more simply- Eriksson is going to get his term and money. The short-sighted approach would be to do what it takes to keep him in the fold, but if Loui truly wants to remain with the Boston Bruins, he and Barry should be willing to take a compromise to help the B’s fit him into their picture without knee-capping themselves in 2 or 3 years when he’ll be 33 or 34 and the possibility exists for a precipitous drop off in production.
Because we live in a free market system, there is simply no reason for Eriksson to make that compromise.
And that’s why the fans who so like and respect what he’s accomplished for the B’s should enjoy him while they can but understand that the old NHL where how deep an owner’s pockets were could guarantee a player’s stability on a team for years is no longer a reality. If you don’t believe the Bruins are a Stanley Cup contender (and how can you really believe that given last night’s 2-0 loss in Nashville and Boston’s 1-8 record against teams with a playoff record since mid-December?), then you don’t have to like the idea of Eriksson being moved, but you know in your heart of hearts that it is the more practical decision to set the team up to return to that status we’ve gotten used to since 2011.
If you love something, then set it free. Nothing can take away from what Loui Eriksson has brought to the team, but his contributions are not so essential that Sweeney and his pro and amateur staff can’t find a more cost effective replacement that could eventually match and even eclipse the Swede’s almost three-year run.
At this stage of where things stand with he Bruins franchise, Eriksson is a “nice to have” player, but with salaries getting more and more out of whack and faced with the possibility that the NHL’s cap ceiling is actually going down by some $4 million, he’s a luxury that Boston really can’t afford without robbing Peter to pay Paul. If your house is on fire, you don’t remodel your kitchen- you put out the fire and invest your money on fixing the real damage to the house.
The B’s need to address the defense. I know it. You know it. The team knows it.
Eriksson represents one of the bigger assets that Sweeney can leverage for the real package needed to right his organizational ship (and that might not happen until the offseason or later). With the clock ticking until the end of the month, it is time to set Loui free.