Shots fired: Report- Eriksson to Vancouver, Khudobin back to B’s

Nick Kypreos reporting that Loui Eriksson has agreed to terms on a 6-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks. AAV to be determined, but have to think it will be around $5.5-6M range- too rich for the Bruins, in all honesty.

The Bruins now just have D Joe Morrow and winger Jimmy Hayes to show for the Tyler Seguin trade that happened just three years ago on July 4th. The criticism will only grow, as once again- it was the return, dummy. Seguin still has a lot of growing up to do, but man- the guy is a super star and the B’s failed to get commensurate value. Period. End of story. There’s no dodging that one, even if I still maintain that I understood the reasoning behind moving him.

What adds fuel to the fire is that the B’s could have flipped Eriksson to St Louis back in February for Kevin Shattenkirk, but neither team could make the money work. Based on connected sources to both teams, I am told that there is a sense of regret that the sides did not work harder to make it happen. The Bruins have now lost Eriksson to free agency for zip and the Blues may have lost David Backes to the open market as well.

Ultimately, though- unrestricted free agency represents a sense of insanity, where teams pay above market prices for older players who more often than not represent the law of diminishing returns. If the Bob McKenzie rumor that the Bruins are in heavy on Backes, (and hey- it’s Mr. McKenzie- no one is going to doubt it for a second) and they end up with him, this one is going to sting for Doug Armstrong, as dealing Shattenkirk to the B’s would have likely given him the cap space to get a deal done with his captain.

Backes makes perfect sense when you look at what the Bruins value- size, ability but leadership and character. They have to get bigger up the middle, and getting him would mean that Don Sweeney can flip other assets for help on defense.

Farewell, Loui- he was a good Bruin and had his best season in Boston at the right time. These guys should be given every chance to cash in, and Eriksson did just that. The B’s wanted him back, just not at the price Jim Benning was willing to pay. Now, we wait to see who the B’s bring in to shore up their non-playoff squad that is weaker than it was without Eriksson.

Also from Mssr. McKenzie- the Bruins are reportedly bringing back goalie Anton “Dobby” Khudobin– the diminutive but plucky netminder who played well for them as Tuukka Rask’s backup before signing with Carolina a few years back. He’s bounced around after failing to earn that elusive No. 1 spot elsewhere, and this is a fine (and cheap) signing to bring in veteran insurance, while Malcolm Subban may still be given every opportunity to earn the backup spot. Jeremy Smith is no doubt gone now that Borat is indeed back.

EDIT: He’s on a 2-year, $2.4 M deal which helps keep the costs down on Rask’s $7M hit- $1.2M for a capable backup is a little higher than ideal, but the B’s know what they are getting and he’s shown he can get the job done when called upon, despite the lack of ideal NHL size for the position.

Thud! (And ideas on what the B’s need to address going forward)

That’s the sound of the Boston Bruins coming out of an important game last night against the Anaheim Ducks.

The reality is- you can’t win in any league without scoring goals, so this one was over just a few minutes into it- as long as it took trade deadline pickup Jamie McGinn to put the puck past Jonas Gustavsson at 2:51.

The Bruins outshot and outhit the Ducks, and after a rough 1st period, pulled things together until giving up a Hampus Lindholm goal early in the third period.  However, on a night that the B’s couldn’t get any of their 38 shots past starting netminder Frederik Andersen, no one should be all that surprised- the Ducks are one of the league’s top teams after a brutal offensive start. The defense and goaltending has been there for them all season, and when the scoring picked up, you just knew that Bruce Boudreau’s club would be a force. The B’s have been outscored 10-2 in their pair of games against the Ducks this season. In a head-to-head matchup like this one, it was evident that the B’s is not as talented, not as deep, not as strong, not as fast.

I know fans are disappointed, and there’s no doubt more is expected of this B’s club that went on an impressive hot streak after keeping Loui Eriksson and picking up John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak on February 29th’s NHL trade deadline. At the same time, it’s unfortunate that there still seems to be this sense of entitlement by so many out there who flood the airwaves and internet with negativity in the wake of a loss. No team has ever posted a perfect record in any regular season in NHL history and no one ever will. The B’s are far from a powerhouse team, so nobody should really be surprised that they came up short against the Ducks last night. Not giving a pass to the Bruins here, but they were overmatched against Anaheim last night and it showed- they put up a solid effort and had their moments, but their opponent is that much better. McGinn and Ryan Kesler scored in the first 5 minutes and while the game seemed closer than the final score, the B’s were unable to solve the defense and goaltender at the other end.

The honeymoon with Stempniak and Liles is ending. They’re solid veterans, but not true difference makers. Boston’s showing against San Jose and Anaheim give you an indication that while the team improved at the deadline, how much of an upgrade the duo represent looks to be relatively minimal compared to the strength and core of the recognized top clubs in the league, especially out West. Liles played poorly last night…it happens, but his -3 against the Ducks is probably more reflective of what he is at age 35 than anything else, but after infusing the B’s with a shot of energy after arriving, he’s coming back down to earth a bit.

The team should be grateful that they didn’t lose sparkplug Matt Beleskey to a serious eye injury after he got caught with a Simon Despres high stick on the follow through of a puck battle. Once again, there were missed calls on some blatant stuff that should have gone Boston’s way, but it didn’t happen and who is to say that the B’s power play could have made a difference? The good news for the Bruins is that their penalty killing has been pretty dangerous this season with 9 shorthanded goals, so perhaps it pays them to be without the man advantage. In any case- the fan frustration that Boston continues to be at the bottom of the league in power play chances is palpable, but I’m not sure we can do anything about it.

Last night wasn’t about the missed calls as much as it was about missed opportunities- the second period was much better and a goal or two could have changed the game entirely, but sometimes we have to take a step back and understand that Ducks are a superior team. They made their chances count and Boston didn’t. That’s life and hockey.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Bruins as they face a rested L.A. Kings team in their home digs tonight, the same club that demolished Boston in the Hub, and that word probably doesn’t begin to describe the one-sided drubbing the Kings gave them on their home ice in Milan Lucic’s return to TD Garden. They’ll go home briefly and then head down to New York to face the Rangers on Wednesday, so there is a chance they can salvage a point or three in the final two games of their roadie, but it won’t be easy.

With that in mind, here are some (obvious) thoughts for Don Sweeney and the team to ponder going forward:

  1. The defense must be the offseason priority.

No disrespect intended to Dennis Seidenberg, but serious thought should be given to either trading him for an inconsequential return or, if no NHL team is willing to take him and his $4 million cap hit, buying him out and moving on. Kevan Miller is a good teammate and has had his moments in Boston, but the B’s need to look at using his roster spot on someone else. He’ll land on his feet with someone else, but the B’s already re-signed Adam McQuaid to a questionable extension (and I say questionable in terms of pure economics- will always respect McQuaid for what he brings to the team, but he’s yet to make it through an entire NHL unscathed and the wear and tear on him appears to be showing)- they don’t need to add another one with a game but limited Miller.

Zdeno Chara can’t carry the team- that much is certain- but he still carries value in the right role. Trading him is the popular talking point by folks who don’t seem to understand that he has a no movement clause. I get that trading him makes sense on multiple levels, but the contract he signed makes that highly problematic, even if the GM was willing to move in that direction. Bottom line- unless he does a Ray Bourque and asks out, Chara isn’t going anywhere. Having said that, Sweeney and his staff understand that he simply cannot be an effective workhorse anymore. Not only does the team need a legitimate No. 2 defender to balance the three pairings, but they also need to seek out an effective defense partner for Chara. They weren’t able to find one this season.

Maybe Colin Miller can be that guy, but the more I see of him, the more I believe he’s just a middle-tier player who has some nice offensive tools and will be an above average power play specialist with 40-point NHL upside but is not instinctive enough of a player to be a bell cow 2-way threat who will be a dependable defensive presence. He’s still young and will develop into an NHL regular, but I’m not sure he’s someone the Bruins and their fans should be placing an inordinate amount of faith in as a top-2 or even 3 solution for the team.

It’s been a disappointing season for Torey Krug as far as the goals go- he has just three. It isn’t for a lack of trying but he’s gotten no breaks this year. He’s still one of Boston’s best options on defense in terms of his skating, puck-moving, smarts and energy/tenacity. He’s posted a career-best in assists and is an important character guy for the team. In a perfect world he’d have a lot more goals, but it might be a blessing in disguise- if he was lighting it up, he’d be looking at a bigger payday. As it stands, the B’s should be able to lock him into a reasonable, fair-market extension at around $5 million AAV, perhaps a little less, and considering what Seidenberg is getting, that’s about right. Some folks won’t like it, but those people are nowhere near the team and can’t even comprehend what Krug means to the club on and off the ice. Unless he’s part of some major trade and massive plan to re-shape Boston’s defense by bringing in multiple players, Krug should be a part of the solution going forward. He might not have the ideal size, but his oversized heart and hockey IQ mean he can be highly effective- he just doesn’t have a lot of help at present.

The Bruins need to make something happen at the position. Kevin Shattenkirk is the biggest name out there (and Boston might/should have their sights on a few other options), and he won’t come cheaply from the St. Louis Blues if they were to trade him. But should Boston land him, they had better have the ability to retain him for the long-term. If it’s someone else, so be it- but whomever the B’s are looking to bring in, it needs to be a player who can be part of a winning present and future.

2. Boston needs to upgrade Jimmy Hayes and Brett Connolly.

There’s no way around it- both have been major disappointments.

In Hayes’ case, you would think the local guy would have shown more consistent energy and desire but it seems like the pressure got to him. Although huge, the former Nobles prep star and Boston College product has always been more of a gentle giant than a premier power forward, and his skating is what prevented him from being a first-round pick in 2008- he struggles to play a consistent uptempo style. Hayes gets his goals and points by going to the net and boxing out defenders with his massive frame, but we don’t see it enough. The Bruins acquired him in hopes that after a 19-goal campaign in Florida (including a dagger game at the end of the season that essentially knocked the Bruins out of the playoffs) he would take it to the next level. That hasn’t happened and I don’t know if it ever will…he’s such a curiously passive player given what he could be with that pure size and the soft hands around the net. I can only imagine the coaches are even more baffled. Bringing him home to Boston hasn’t worked and a lot of this is on Hayes- the team has tried a lot of different things to get him going (and we’ve seen what he’s capable of bringing) but he’s not responded in any meaningful, consistent fashion. That’s one of the reasons why he watched last night’s contest from the press box. He’s on the books for two more years, so the B’s either have to remain invested in him and hope he gets the funk out (Extreme reference!) of his game or they’ll have to take pennies on the dollar (and perhaps retain salary in the process) to get some other team to take him off their hands.

Connolly is even more maddening.

The sixth overall pick in 2010 flashes all of those tools that saw him selected before some pretty damn fine NHL players, but we see it only in fleeting fashion. The size and speed combo catches the eye for sure, but it’s what he doesn’t do with it that leaves you often shaking your head in disbelief. The scouting reports on Connolly coming out Prince George of the WHL near unanimously praised him for his hockey sense and killer instinct around the net, but the NHL version of Connolly flies in the face of those observations. If he’s not doing fly-bys in front of the opposition net or missing shots from prime position, Connolly can’t seem to do the little things that matter- battles for loose pucks, a net-front presence, won foot races- he often seems to be a step behind.

That’s not to say Connolly can’t be an effective fourth-line winger, but the Bruins didn’t give up not one but two second-round picks for a bottom line player. The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t draft him where they did for a checking/energy guy. He’s not yet 24, so you don’t want to completely close the door on Connolly, but at the same time- like Hayes- the B’s have given him a lot of different looks and chances and he simply hasn’t done much with it. 9 goals in 69 games with some healthy scratches thrown in there simply doesn’t cut it for a player as talented as Connolly is. Where’s the beef?

Frank Vatrano is the obvious player to give a chance as the season comes to an end over the disappointing duo. He just turned 22 this week and has 31 goals in 31 AHL games, not to mention another six goals in 30 NHL games after an earlier stint with the big club this season. My personal feeling is that right now- Vatrano is better off playing top line, PP and PK minutes in Providence as opposed to being on a lower unit with limited ice time. Of course, the B’s are only allowed four recalls after the trade deadline, so it isn’t as simple as just brining him up.

Having said all that, the B’s could do worse than giving the Springfield Rifle a shot- he’s got speed and energy to burn and just might give the Boston offense a shot in the arm. He’s a left wing who could replace Eriksson in the top-six and then Eriksson could move over to the right allowing coaches to move out either one of Connolly and Hayes. The issue for Boston (other than burning the call up and concerns about the defense factor of a Vatrano-David KrejciDavid Pastrnak line) is that in order to bring Vatrano up, they would have to put someone else on waivers, so right now, it appears that the business of hockey and economics are playing a more prominent role. I can’t argue with those who say that exposing Connolly and/or Hayes to waivers is no big loss, but if Sweeney is convinced he can eventually move them for some kind of return, you begin to understand his reticence to put them on the waiver wire where any team can put in a claim.

Either way, I think we see Frankie “Vats” in Boston next season in some kind of full-time capacity. Natural goal scorers like him don’t grow on trees and the B’s will want to cultivate some returns, especially if the club sees a key roster departure up front, which leads me to my next point.

3. Loui Eriksson– caveat emptor!

Let me get this out of the way- I like Loui. Always have.

He’s been unfairly maligned in the wake of the trade that sent Tyler Seguin (btw- that achilles tendon injury he suffered was gruesome- luckily for him, he may have dodged a bullet by only being out a few weeks versus how serious it could have been) to Dallas. He’s not flashy, but is just smart and consistent- you always know what you’re going to get with Eriksson. But, he’ll be 31 soon, and with what he brings you, 5 or 6 years at close to $6 million per if not more is simply not money/term well spent, and the Bruins need to walk away.

For those who regularly read TSP  and listen to the podcasts (this blog for those who might not have had their coffee)- you know I was all in favor of moving Eriksson at the deadline and was surprised when the Bruins did’t. Of course- if you believe Cam Neely and the lackluster offers he claims were made for Eriksson, then it is understandable that the B’s would hold onto him and take their chances, and he’s continued to make timely contributions. Unfortunately, with two tough losses, it’s easy to revisit the wisdom in not moving Eriksson, especially when it stands to reason that he’ll either leave Boston in early July or the B’s will have to overpay significantly to keep him in the fold.

What to do?

The positives- even without the high-end foot speed, Eriksson is an ideal forward for Boston’s system. He’s smart, industrious, thinks the game at such a high level that he keeps the puck and makes the right decisions in every zone. Versatility is a plus- he’s proven he can play either wing. Eriksson is a smooth playmaker, goes to the net and finishes plays off in close, does good power play work, kills penalties and is a threat shorthanded (witness his shortie the other night against San Jose). He’s a quiet guy, but leads by example and has earned the trust and respect of his coaches and teammates alike.

On the downside- he’s a good player, not a great one. He’s going to get his money because teams out there with cap space to burn will give him what he and his agent are asking for. That means the B’s will either pony up or have to swallow hard and let him go, because unless Eriksson orders his agent JP Barry to stand down and decides to take a more team-friendly deal, they’ll get little in the way of a break. And honestly- why should Eriksson leave money and term on the table if he can get it elsewhere? I don’t begrudge him getting what he can, but that puts the Bruins in a tough spot.

Ultimately, I think that if the B’s are serious about getting a long-term but young enough defenseman to rebuild their blue line corps around, they need to trade Eriksson’s cap space to make sure they can invest that savings in a long-term deal. That means that if they aren’t willing to go beyond the four years they’ve already offered Loui (and that’s a risky proposition as it is with his concussion history), then they should offer him up to a team that wants the exclusive negotiating rights and is willing to give them a mid-round pick. It’s a far from ideal return, but if the Neely claims are true, getting a fifth-rounder for him isn’t that terrible. After all- Jamie Benn was a fifth-round pick once upon a time, right (it could happen again…yeah, right!)?

I guess we’ll find out, but at some point, the Bruins will need to see if the young crop of forwards in their system can play. Keeping a known (and relatively safe) commodity like Eriksson benefits them in the short term, but leaves them little wiggle room if he skates off a cliff at age 33 or 34 or something unforeseen happens to his health. Marc Savard and Seidenberg are recent reminders of just how rapidly a player and team’s outlook can change when devastating injuries happen.

But in getting back to Loui and why he wasn’t moved, I can only surmise it is because the team and coaches trust him to give his level best each and every night.  That trust factor is why keeping Loui made far more sense for Boston than dumping him for a mediocre futures return would have. It’s easy for fans to say- just take the second-round pick so he doesn’t walk for nothing on a team that has no chance to win! But fans don’t work, sweat, bleed for the team- they can make detached pronouncements on Twitter, internet message boards and over the radio airwaves and don’t have to be accountable for them. Dumping Eriksson would have sent a message to the team that in my mind would have been far more detrimental. If you’re a prospective free agent who might be considering whether to stay or go, or you’re thinking you might like to sign with the Bruins down the road, does your trust that the team is committed to winning go up or does it go down if management hurts a playoff-bound roster at the deadline? Players get the business of hockey, sure- but they also want to feel like the GM has their back. They are…after all…human.

TSP doesn’t have the definitive answers for what ails the Bruins and how to fix it.

Winning the Stanley Cup is hard- only 1 out of 30 teams can do it every year. This team deserves credit for fighting hard and exceeding expectations this season, but it’s hard to get past what we’ve seen in terms of how they match up against the better clubs around the league.

To expect the Bruins to win every night and then be angry when they don’t is a fool’s errand, but at the same time- management’s job is to make this team viable not just for this year but in the seasons to come. Last year, we heard about “passengers” and the B’s still seem to have a couple of those. The defense tries hard, but they don’t have the ability to seriously compete for a championship.

The Stanley Cup window is barely open for the B’s, but it isn’t shut. Whether they can force it open more to match up better with the NHL’s big dogs in the next 1-3 years is very much an unanswered question at this point.

This will be a pivotal couple of months for Sweeney and his legacy as GM in Boston.





Trade deadline Blues- Boston edition

Don Sweeney is in a bind.

NHL general managers, especially ones in the thick of a playoff race in a season that many (including this columnist) would be a clear step backwards as the Boston Bruins are, don’t like to operate from a disadvantage. Yet, as we are less than 24 hours from the NHL’s annual trade deadline frenzy, that’s exactly where the B’s GM and key decision maker finds himself.

On the one hand, forward Loui Eriksson is precisely the kind of player you win with in the modern NHL. His 23 goals and counting only begin to the tell the story of an experienced winger who is an integral part of Boston’s puck possession game and brings leadership and respect to the room as a quiet professional.

On the other, his $4.3M AAV cap hit has been one of the league’s bargains for the past four years, and as a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent at age 31, he’s positioned to cash in on one last contract that will bring him both term and value on the open market.  He knows it. Sweeney knows it. His agent, JP Barry, most certainly knows it. There will be very little in the way of hometown discounts on any extension he signs with Boston, because all parties know that if he rides it out, some sucker GM with cap space to burn will eagerly give him what he’s worth on the open market at or around July 1.

Why call the GM a sucker? Well, because that’s what many of them are. When a team has cap space, many of them burn through that wiggle room like a college student through their parents’ credit card limit. Spending upwards of $6M on a player who is on the wrong side of 30 and who is a very good complementary player, but not a core guy you do everything in your power to keep is a risky move that often times has more of a down side than a clear benefit. Eriksson could be an outlier- the rare player who gets better with age and manages to avoid any more concussions that could cost him the rest of his career.  More on that later.

But if you’re the Boston Bruins, given the state they’ve found themselves in since winning the President’s Trophy in 2014, can you really afford to take that chance?

There is no question that Eriksson on the 2015-16 B’s makes them a better team than they would be without him. But how much better, and how much more of a prayer do they have at winning the Stanley Cup now and in the next few years if they allocate those cap dollars to Eriksson instead of seriously shoring up the blue line is the six million dollar question.

The dominoes are falling- Stan Bowman, the three Stanley Cup ring-wearing GM of the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, seems intent on adding a fourth. In the span of 72 hours, he’s gone out and added veteran forwards Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise,  and Tomas “Flash” Fleischmann along with defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, surrendering picks and a couple of young players in Marko Dano (to Winnipeg for Ladd) and Phillip Danault and a cap hit/bad fit in veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi, who goes back to the L.A. Kings for Ehrhoff. The ‘Hawks also added former Bruin Matt Fraser in the Ladd deal, so when it comes to depth, the Windy City Winners are at a zombie apocalypse-level of protection up front. The scary thing is- Bowman might not be finished shoring up his club on the back end.

Elsewhere in the West, the other contending clubs will have to adapt or die in response to Chicago’s shots across the bow. Bob Murray and his Anaheim Ducks are back with a vengeance after they began the season with a dormant offense that has awakened with a roar and now has opponents fleeing in abject terror. Murray has a plethora of defensemen that he can dangle to get forward help back with. Could 2013 third overall pick Jonathan Drouin be SoCal-bound for someone like Sami Vatanen? Tampa GM Steve Yzerman has said he wants immediate help back, mainly in the form of a talented right-shooting defenseman with some retainability (read: not a rental). Drouin has been a monumental disappointment to date, but you have to admit- the thought of plugging him in with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry must have Murray (and Bruce Boudreau) licking their chops. Those offensive issues early on? Might be a thing of the past if Drouin ends up on that roster and starts realizing his immense potential.

The Kings are…well…the Kings. They’re already a dangerously lethal group- all they have to do is get into the playoffs. You just know that Dean Lombardi will find a way to slide in and acquire some difference-making player under the wire like he did two years ago with Marian Gaborik. We’ll have fun waiting to see what he does. Scuderi’s a nice start, but more is coming.

This leaves the Doug Armstrong-led St. Louis Blues. They looked unstoppable early on, but have taken some hits with injuries and can’t match their nemesis Blackhawks on paper if the season ended today. Luckily, they got star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo back today in a much-needed win over the sinking Carolina Hurricanes (who dealt captain and franchise face Eric Staal to the Rangers today for a prospect and a pair of second-round picks and looked like a rudderless ship for it) and he provided a multi-point game with five blocked shots to go with, as Jake Allen shook off a couple of early goals. This took place just after the ‘Hawks gave all of us perhaps a glimpse of what will come in early June when Chicago defeated the Washington Capitals at the United Center.

Does anyone in St. Louis think the Blues have a prayer against those guys without some key adds? I’ll hang up and listen to your answer off the air.

But seriously, folks- it’s absurd to think that Armstrong and the Blues aren’t sweating right now. The clock is ticking…Alexander Steen is out for several weeks if not longer, and who’s to say how effective he’ll be when he gets back? A Brian Elliott injury forced them to trade for an experienced backup (I almost said capable- but even that might be a stretch) in Anders Nilsson from Edmonton. One guy the Blues could definitely benefit from adding is Eriksson. The question is- are the Blues serious about competing for Lord Stanley *this* year or are they willing to go through another early exit and disappointing spring and long offseason? (EDIT- The Blues are tight against the cap and that’s limiting Armstrong’s freedom of maneuver for sure, but the best in the biz find ways to get creative…see Bowman, Stan. I don’t think Blues fans will be in much of a forgiving mood if that’s the excuse trotted out after another postseason dud, but that’s just me.)

With that in mind, here are some current scenarios revolving around Eriksson. One thing is certain: by this time tomorrow, we’ll know that he’s still on the Boston roster. Or he won’t be. For everything in between, get ready for the final hours of the Loui watch.

Why Eriksson will be traded: Sweeney is smart enough to be playing long ball. As a former NHL defender with more than 1,000 career games at the highest level, he understands the importance of a strong defense and he undoubtedly knows that Boston’s current group on ‘D’ is nowhere near what is needed to contend.

Those who insist that Eriksson must be traded for immediate help or the move is not worth it are missing the larger picture, and that is- trades involving prime, No. 1 or 2 defensemen in season are pretty rare (note- I said “prime” so beware jumping in to remind me of the Dion Phaneuf deal- he’s essentially cooked and will make Ottawa rue the day they took on his albatross contract). Boston can set a longer game play into motion by dealing Eriksson now for the kinds of assets that can be packaged into a more realistic summer trade for a defenseman when cap and personnel issues will force other GMs to come to the table more readily. But right now, with so much parity in the league and teams looking to finish strong no matter the situation, it doesn’t make sense for a team to flip Boston a primetime defender for Eriksson, because the teams that want him desire to add his production and experience to their lineups while not weakening the roster elsewhere.

The B’s need too much help up and down the roster to roll the dice and risk keeping him only to recoup maybe a 5th or 6th pick for him before the draft if he stays. Even if they make the playoffs, the B’s will be hard-pressed to get out of the East with  the lineup they currently have. Sure- Claude Julien and the players deserve a lot of credit for fighting their way into the midst of the postseason derby when expectations coming in were so modest. But at this stage- is whatever Eriksson is going to contribute going to be worth it in the long run?

That’s the tough call Sweeney and his staff have to make.

Why Eriksson will not be traded: The coaches and players have a great deal of respect for Eriksson and what he brings to the table. It’s easy to say to just trade him by people without skin in the game, by fans who get to sit back and observe and make pointed critiques of the team’s chances and shortcomings, but none of whom really see behind the curtain or understand what he contributes to the effort.

Sweeney unfortunately has to bear the cross of a preceding GM who was known for his loyalty in overpaying veteran players who were already beginning the downward slides of their careers. That scar tissue is what creates a charged environment by the team’s supporters who don’t want to see Eriksson stay through the stretch run only to see the Bruins (assuming they don’t collapse in a tough March schedule) bow out of the playoffs and then get his big payday in July with just a latter-round pick to show for it if Sweeney can send him to a club that wants exclusive negotiation rights through 11:59 p.m. on June 30, 2016.

The thing is- the game isn’t played by robots. Real people often have a harder time making such clinical, dispassionate decisions. Eriksson’s 23 goals represent the second-best production on the team and what help Brad Marchand to the damage he’s done because opposing coaches have to respect Boston’s top two lines. Remove Loui from the equation and regardless of who you replace him with, you’re creating an easier matchup play for the other guys. Beyond that, Eriksson handles the puck smartly, goes to the net and plays about as good a 200-foot game as any of the top forwards in the league. The Bruins know that trading him means a step backwards for their roster. That’s a tough pill to swallow, especially with all the scrapping and effort the team has put into getting them to this point.

Although the pragmatists don’t want to hear it, hasn’t this club earned the right to get a shot with their best foot forward? If other teams aren’t willing to pony up, then why should the B’s just make it fait accompli that Eriksson be dealt for whatever they can get?

And then of course, if Sweeney thinks that he can sign Eriksson to an extension that won’t cripple the team going forward and retain him for the next 4-5 years, then perhaps it’s not as bad a risk as so many perceive. After all- at 31, Eriksson is at the age that the NHL first allowed players to be unrestricted free agents before the 2004 lockout. It’s a mixed bag of results when you go back through the years and look at how big-name UFAs performed after 31, but there are worse moves the Bruins could make than investing in a player they know, trust, and respect.

Conclusion: Your guess is as good as mine. I’m not going to speculate on players or rumors beyond what I’ve written here. I don’t have any significant leads at this time, and those of you who know me understand that’s not really my shtick.

I will be here to break it down when the deadline comes and goes at 3 p.m. tomorrow. We can expect the Bruins will do  something, but what that something is…well, that’s all part of the excitement, isn’t it?

And on that note- let’s see how the team does against Tampa Bay, shall we?

Postscript: Well, we sure saw how the Bruins did against the ‘Bolts: a 4-1 loss after taking a 1-0 lead. Another decisive defeat at home to drop the B’s three games under .500. Good teams just don’t do that, folks. And that’s why, I can’t for the life of me, see the trade deadline coming and going tomorrow without Eriksson being moved for assets that will help get the Bruins on track for the long haul. It’s a balancing act to give the club a shot at playoffs and maybe winning a round or two and conceding that this group just doesn’t have it, but that’s what the team is paying the GM for. The prediction here? Eriksson is gone to the Western Conference for more of a futures return, Sweeney will make a separate trade or two to bring some veteran talent in, but the real shoring up of this team will happen in the offseason.




On Loui Eriksson and the easy(er) right over the harder wrong

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.



Thoughts on Dennis Wideman, loss to Leafs and Loui (Loui) Eriksson

The NHL dropped the hammer on Dennis Wideman, giving him 20 games of unpaid vacation for his cross-check of NHL linesman Don Henderson on January 27. I won’t rehash the incident here- it is well-documented and there is plenty of room to debate how sound of mind he was when the incident occurred, but the bottom line is that the league had to do this.

Had to.

Physical abuse of officials cannot ever be tolerated in any form. Equivocating in the form of accepting that Wideman was loopy (and allegedly concussed) after a big hit immediately prior is a slippery slope that no league can afford in this day and age. Even if the NHL wanted to cut the player a break, it opens the door for any player to physically engage the on-ice officials and be able to claim a precedent for leniency.

No, the NHL got this one right. Wideman and the NHLPA are well within their rights to appeal and if Gary Bettman wants to take the mitigating circumstances into account, that is up to him. The rule of law here is critical and leaves no room for selective application of the rules, so Wideman got the book thrown at him and rightfully so. What happens from here on in is anyone’s guess, but he’s eligible to return on March 11, some two weeks after the trade deadline.

That leads me to my next point.

If recent rumors are to be believed, the B’s might have dodged a bullet with Wideman’s lengthy suspension. Several sources to include Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe, recently discussed the team’s interest in bringing Wideman back to the Bruins given the team’s struggles on defense. Wideman played in Boston from late in the 2006-07 season through the end of 2009-10, before he was part of the package dealt to the Florida Panthers for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell in June, 2010.

While in the Black and Gold, Wideman was an effective if polarizing and uneven player for the team. He posted a career year in 2008-09 with 50 points (until he eclipsed that mark last season with a 15-goal, 56-point campaign with the Flames). This season, Wideman was well off that pace with just two goals and 19 points in 48 games at the time of his suspension. He was in effect,  continuing his career trend of following his best years with numbers well short of those marks. In stops with Boston, Washington and Calgary, Wideman alternately had seasons with very good offensive output followed by barely mediocre campaigns. His most recent stint with the Flames is no exception.

While Wideman to Boston would have given the team a more experienced defender to play more minutes and do some good work on the power play, his lack of foot speed, and advancing age (he’ll be 33 next month) in conjunction with his $5+ million cap hit would have limited Boston’s options going forward.

It would be one thing if Wideman was in his prime, but on the wrong side of 30 and never the most fleet-of-foot defender to begin with, his presence might have constituted a slight upgrade on what the B’s can currently field, but he’s more of an offensive contributor than a defensive stalwart, which is what the team needs more than anything right now from the blue line. Unless the Flames were retaining salary in the deal with Boston (rumored to involve mid-round pick and/or prospect), the move made little sense for Boston, who would likely be saddled with a bottom-3 defender with diminishing returns and a high cap hit for what he brings.

If Don Sweeney was in fact preparing to bring Wideman back into the fold, then count me in as someone who feels the suspension was a blessing in disguise. It’s a short-term minimal upgrade, but limits the GM’s options when trying to do the critical roster building in the next 1-2 years that will determine if the B’s can get back into contention or solidify their status as an also-ran.

This is why the loss the other night to the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the NHL’s cellar dwellers, was so confounding.

When David Krejci popped home his 12th goal of the season early in the 3rd period, the B’s were up by two goals and positioned to cruise to the finish with another two points in hand. Unfortunately, the Leafs didn’t get the memo and battled back, winning the game in overtime on a P.A. Parenteau power play goal after Boston frittered away its 3-1 lead.

This was a game the Bruins could have had. Should have had. Too often last season, we saw them surrender points to teams lower than them in the standings and it caught up to them in the final weekend when they were on the outside looking in. The B’s had their chances to beat Toronto decisively, and wasted a two-goal game from Brad Marchand, whose blistering goal-scoring pace has been a treat to watch. You’d like to have seen Tuukka Rask make just one save in there on Toronto’s last three shots that went in, but its hard to fault the goaltender too much on seeing-eye redirections and perfect puck luck that the Leafs translated into success. In the end, poor puck management was far more costly for the Bruins than Rask’s inability to deny Toronto’s comeback, but allowing come-from-behind wins to the other guys has been the most profoundly negative story of Boston’s season thus far.

It marked the seventh time this year Boston has blown a two-goal lead (and it’s only February for goodness sake), and underscores why lateral moves like Wideman aren’t worth it.

Frustrated fans (and they’re right to be angry, believe me) want a change and want one now, but unless it’s something that can address Boston’s shortcomings in the short and longer term, then I would submit to you that it is better for Sweeney and Co. to ride it out.

We knew very well coming into the season that Boston’s collective defense was not a strength. What has been a pleasant surprise has been the way the forwards have collectively fared, though the production itself has been largely top-heavy of late, with not enough production on the lower lines. However, even with the uptick in offense, the defense was an identified concern coming into the 2015-16 season. Whether you staunchly believe that Sweeney could (and should) have done something to address the flaws at that position last offseason, or feel that getting out from under the cap crush was the first priority and that rolling the dice with some of the younger players in the system was worth trying, the reality is- it is now February and we know that this group is not a playoff-caliber defense. I went over that in more detail in a previous post, so I won’t revisit and pick at a scab many of you are already well aware exists.

The problem with the “do something now” mentality is that it leads to short-sighted transactions like a trade for Dennis Wideman, who would have likely cost the team assets that would be better allocated elsewhere, or it feeds this idea that there is a surplus of fine talent at the defense position just waiting to be picked up. The first point isn’t going to fix the team’s woes, and the second is becoming more and more of an unintended consequence of the NHL’s move to impose cost certainty (a salary cap) 11 years ago. It was a different league back then and hockey trades for talent were far more prevalent because there weren’t a lot of complex rules and constraints on a club’s salary structure and the return on investment that has become more and more important over the past decade.

Nowadays, teams recognize pretty early the importance of the skilled defenseman in the modern NHL and lock them up long-term before the possibility of getting them via free agency is there. Unless, of course, they trade them (see: Hamilton, Douglas) first. Today’s reality is a stark one if you’re Don Sweeney: there simply isn’t much out there to be had if you need to truly bolster your blueline for the present and future. And, if there is a GM out there willing to even talk about moving such a prized asset, the cost will be astronomical. It is a seller’s market and with the parity the NHL currently enjoys, there aren’t many teams looking to unload anyone right now.

This leads me to Loui Eriksson

If we accept that a. this Boston Bruins team simply isn’t that good- they perhaps make the 2016 playoffs as a fringe club in a wildcard spot and then subsequently bow out to those better teams above them in the seeding and that b. Eriksson is pretty bound and determined to leverage what he can as an unrestricted free agent this summer, then it stands to reason that the Bruins should move on from him and get what they can at the deadline.

Now, given how well he’s played, the good news is- such a return stands to be a pretty fine one for the B’s. The bad news: any contender looking to add someone like Eriksson will be happy to part with futures, but good look getting any NHL roster/prime potential talent back in return. The whole idea of trading for a soon-to-be UFA like Eriksson is to add him to the very good group you *already* have- not robbing Peter to pay Paul by giving up a key contributor from your lineup at a different position. That’s just not how it works.

Loui has been a team player and good guy since the B’s acquired him nearly three years ago. Alas, Tyler Seguin became one of the real forces in the NHL, while Eriksson has largely continued his steady, effective play. That has led to his getting the short shrift in Boston, though there is no shortage of real students of the game out there who recognize what Eriksson brings to the table and appreciate him for it.

Having said all of that, it would be one thing if the Bruins were contenders and they held onto Eriksson to make that one last run, then lost him to free agency in July. The Bruins aren’t that team. So, at some point, unless they’re willing to re-up him, which, as he turns 31, is probably not the best idea to commit to term and dollars he’ll likely get on the open market, means he has to go.

At this point, I think the Bruins are better off taking their lumps- resisting the urge to pay a premium for a mediocre return in the here and now, and ultimately build up more of a war chest of assets that can allow Sweeney to make some more aggressive moves down the line to absorb the going rate for a true, difference-making and cost-effective defender with some longer term retainability.

Dennis Wideman was not that player, so his suspension becomes exhibit A for the case that sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make. And, I would submit to you- any player a team offers up before the trade deadline is not likely to be that guy either. Boston needs not panic, but do the best they can with tweaks and then make a more concerted effort to address the real holes in the lineup this summer. Trying to plug them now will cost a fortune, and in the case of a player like Eriksson, he’s not likely to bring the kind of return that fans are clamoring for.

This is why you saw a trade like the one between Columbus and Nashville in an even-Steven deal with Ryan Johansen and Seth Jones. Both teams got young, high-upside players, neither of whom were finding success in their respective systems. No package of picks and prospects would have enticed either GM into moving prized assets and former top-5 picks in 2010 and 2013- it had to be a roster for roster swap of established NHL players needing a change of scenery. So, unless Bruins fans are prepared to lose someone like David Pastrnak for a defenseman with similar promise, dreaming up scenarios involving Eriksson isn’t going to get it done, and be prepared to be disappointed at the deadline- don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In a perfect world, the Bruins could go out tomorrow and make their team better. The reality is- the world of the modern NHL is far from perfect, and in it, you can certainly make things a whole lot worse before they get any better.

If Sweeney and his staff somehow find a way to get that impact two-way defenseman who could be a future mainstay in the Boston lineup between now and the end of February, then lock him up to an extension now, because that’s the kind of move that flies in the face of the established handicaps that most of the other GMs are dealing with as they try to improve their hockey clubs.


How Swede it is- Eriksson hatty, Gustavsson sharpness key in B’s win

The Boston Bruins beat the Minnesota Wild Thursday night by a 4-2 score thanks in large part to Loui Eriksson’s hat trick (he now has 9 goals on the season) and solid play between the pipes by backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.

The win was significant also because it was only the third victory on home ice this season for Boston, which was an important two points for the team to get on the heels of Tuesday night’s loss to San Jose at the TD Garden. Additionally, that the B’s beat the Wild, the ranking modern expansion era nemesis for Boston, was an important moral win for a team that will take positives in any form these days. It was only the third time since Minnesota joined the league for the 1999-00 season that the B’s had beaten the Wild, which is a remarkable statistic when you consider the success the Bruins have had since 2008.

With defenseman Kevan Miller on the shelf after suffering an upper body injury in the third period against the Sharks, the B’s got a boost with the return of Colin Miller who had missed the previous couple of games to injury.

The story of the night was the play of Boston’s two Swedes- Eriksson and Gustavsson- who paced the home team to a solid win on home ice. For Eriksson, it was his third career three-goal game, and Gustavsson upped his record with Boston to 4-1, a 2.20 GAA and .915 save percentage. He’s making a case to see more ice, which could let Tuukka Rask get a little time to work through his struggles right now. Not surprisingly, I’m seeing some Twitter chatter mocking Rask and elevating ‘Gus’ but still believe Rask is not only a superior goaltender to Gustavsson but he’s capable of infinitely better play than he’s demonstrated to date. This is not a goaltender controversy per se and it would be absurd to argue for Gustavsson to push Rask aside at this juncture, but Gus has played well enough to perhaps get the next game or two and see what he does with the opportunity.

Loui’s first goal of the night happened when he threw the puck at the net from the near the left wing boards and it appeared to hit Brett Connolly and bounce in past Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. In actuality, the puck hit Wild forward Jason Pominville’s skate who was locked up with Connolly and backing in towards his net, meaning the goal belonged to Eriksson, his seventh of the year.

The second goal happened on the power play, when Torey Krug took the puck in from the blue line and near the top of the left circle put a hard pass into the slot where Patrice Bergeron was set up. Bergeron then moved the puck over to Dubnyk’s left and Eriksson buried it for his second of the game.

Eriksson completed the natural hat trick when he finished off a nice give-and-go with David Krejci to close out the scoring. It all started with a good save by Gustavsson and a heads-up pass from Matt Beleskey to spring Krejci and Eriksson on a 2-on-1 in the neutral zone.

As for Eriksson, he’s continuing a fine season in which he currently sits third on the team in scoring with nine goals (team lead) and 17 points in 18 games.

Eriksson was never going to provide the superstar potential Tyler Seguin took with him to Dallas and that was a known risk Boston was taking when they dealt the 21–year-old in 2013. However, this version of Eriksson was the guy the Bruins felt like they were getting back as part of a larger package that to date has not turned out as hoped.

Eriksson’s play this season has made GM Don Sweeney’s job a tough one, as he will have to decide whether Loui is part of a solution going forward past 2016 or if the team should trade him at or near the deadline to get what could be a pretty significant return. We’re too early in the season to figure out whether Boston will be in a position to make a trade or will be better served sticking with him, but one thing is for sure: Eriksson is doing the things we had always seen from him in Dallas. You know what you have in the guy, so if you give that up for the uncertainty of future returns in the form of prospects and/or draft picks, you might just find yourself wishing the team had stuck with Eriksson instead.

It’s no doubt a debate that will continue to be had and heat up after the Winter Classic when playoff positions will start to solidify and we will better know if Eriksson can sustain his impressive scoring pace.

Beleskey and Krejci played superb games as that line carried the night- it’s another sign that while this Bruins team might lack the talent on paper to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, they’re going to show up and give a top effort most nights.


Steady as Loui Goes: Eriksson’s convincing case to stay

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.