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.

 

 

Boulevard of Broken Dreams- Bruins drafts 2007-09

2009The While working out this morning I was listening to my sleaze rock/hair metal playlist and a song by Finnish glam band Hanoi Rocks provided some inspiration. Here’s what sprang up from one of Michael Monroe (Matti Fagerholm) and Co.’s signature songs.

Three years of draft futility didn’t have an immediate impact on the Boston Bruins’ fortunes, but after winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, the lack of production from 17 total picks from 2007-09 has caught up to the team. Blown drafts are nothing new to NHL clubs- every single team has had at least one in their history, with a surprising number of clubs faring poorly over a stretch. It happens. However, in the old days (read: pre salary cap era), richer clubs could at least attempt to buy back draft mistakes through free agency (didn’t work so great for the late 90’s New York Rangers). Now, with the importance of having impact talent on cheaper ELC deals and the necessity of building a quality supporting cast from within, nobody can afford to string together multiple busted drafts as Boston did early in former GM Peter Chiarelli’s tenure.

Here’s a quick look at three bad draft years with hindsight being 20/20 and who the B’s should have taken when they had the chance.

2007

Background: After striking it rich in Vancouver a year earlier with Phil Kessel and Tuukka Rask (Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand had yet to pay off, but that haul made 2006 the best single draft class in about 26 years when the team strung together two brilliant summers in 1979-80) the B’s regressed under coach Dave Lewis, missing the playoffs in Chiarelli’s first Boston season. The eighth pick put them out of range for the guys they reportedly wanted, but a top-10 selection nonetheless came with high expectations.

Who they wanted: London Knights forward Sam Gagner (Edmonton) and the Halifax Mooseheads’ Jakub Voracek (Columbus) both went off the board in the immediate picks prior to Boston’s selection. Gagner made the NHL at 18 but has stagnated, while Voracek was traded to the Flyers and has emerged as one of the league’s better offensive players over the past three seasons.

Who they took: Zach Hamill, C Everett Silvertips. Ouch. At the time, I felt Hamill was a solid pick because he had just led the WHL in scoring at age 18 while playing in a defense-heavy system under former NHL coach Kevin Constantine. What I and most didn’t know is that Hamill had some personality/off-ice challenges that made him a risky pick right off the bat. Suffice to say that his lack of speed and strength were big enough hurdles to overcome and he just didn’t have enough skill to overcome that. He finished his Bruins career in parts of three NHL seasons with just 20 games and four assists; he was traded to Washington for Chris Bourque in 2012, but never saw another NHL shift.

Who they should have taken: Logan Couture, C Ottawa 67’s. Double ouch. The San Jose Sharks knew a deal of the century when they saw one and jumped up to the ninth overall selection behind Boston to grab the OHL star. The All-Star has played in 379 games entering the 2015-16 NHL season with 139 goals and 287 points plus another 18 goals, 36 points in 56 career playoff games. Injuries have interfered with Couture’s production, but for the most part, he’s been everything you want in a top-10 pick and more. Couture here over Jamie Benn is based purely on how the players were projected in 2007, not now. More on Benn below…

The best available player (to Boston) of that draft:  Jamie Benn, C- Dallas Stars 5th round, 129th overall. Benn is exhibit A for how some players don’t hit their stride until after drafted at 17-18. In a re-draft today, Benn goes behind Patrick Kane, and maybe even edges him out for the top pick given his production of late- I’ll leave that debate to others. To know that the Bruins drafted Hamill, Tommy Cross before him is rubbing salt in the wounds. Hey- it’s not all bad, at least German bust Dennis Reul was selected with the pick immediately *after* Benn in the 5th round and not before (the Bruins didn’t have picks in the 3rd or 4th rounds).

The picks: 8- Hamill (20gp, 4 assists), 35- Cross (0 NHL gp), 130- Reul (0 NHL gp), 159- Alain Goulet (0 NHL gp), 169- Radim Ostricil (0 NHL gp), 189- Jordan Knackstedt (0 NHL gp)

The verdict: With 2 picks in the top-35 and just 20 games to show for six selections overall, this is one of Boston’s all-time poorest drafts. Yes, 2007 was not a great year, but imagine what this team would look like if they took Couture or Benn in the 1st and then P.K. Subban in the 2nd.

2008

Background: The B’s surged into the playoffs late and gave a good fight to the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round, going down in seven games but making it fun to be a Bruins fan again. With the 16th overall pick in what was considered a better draft in Ottawa than the year before, the team was looking at a pick with a longer-term payoff.

Who they wanted: Joe Colborne. The Bruins scouted the AJHL standout heavily that season, and so it was no real surprise that they ended up with him, as the team was essentially bidding against themselves. Not many clubs were reported to be as high on the talented but enigmatic center as Boston was.

Who they took: Joe Colborne, C Camrose Kodiaks. No surprise as said above– he was a talented gamble of a player who was controversial for questions over his fire and competitive drive because of his family’s wealth. I always felt that criticism was unfair and while Colborne has reached the NHL after being traded away from Boston and Toronto, he’s not anywhere near the player the Bruins thought they were getting. They moved him in spring of 2011 with picks to the Leafs for veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle. In a good news/bad news scenario, the B’s won the Cup but in spite of Kaberle not because of him. He helped, but wasn’t the player Boston hoped for. Luckily, neither Colborne, nor the picks the B’s traded have come back to bite them.

Who they should have taken: Jordan Eberle, RW Regina Pats. Eberle’s star has fallen a bit in recent seasons, but he’s still the kind of speedy scoring forward that would have been a fine fit with the B’s.

The best available player (to Boston) of that draft: Derek Stepan, C Shattuck St. Mary’s. The Rangers got a steal with him at 51st overall…the B’s opted for speedy but hockey IQ-challenged Max Sauve instead in the second round. Capitals defenseman John Carlson (27th) is also in the discussion.

Hit: Michael Hutchinson, G Barrie Colts- 77th overall pick in the 3rd round was a good one as he emerged to help lead the Winnipeg Jets to their first playoff berth since the club moved to Canada and overall since 2008 when they were the Atlanta Thrashers. In fairness to Boston, he was inconsistent, alternating in Providence between brilliance and profound mediocrity, and never established himself as a No. 1 at that level in three seasons as a Bruins prospect, but just think how different their season would have been last year with ‘Hutch’ as the backup instead of Niklas Svedberg.

The picks: 16- Colborne (160gp 19-43-62-83- TOR, CGY), 47- Sauve (1gp), 77- Hutchinson (41gp 23-11-5, .918), 97- Jamie Arniel (1gp), 173- Nicolas Tremblay (0 NHL gp), 197- Mark Goggin (0 NHL gp)

The verdict: Colborne at least made it and helped the Bruins acquire a small championship piece, but nothing to show for Hutchinson and lack of success anywhere else (Former OHL forward Rob Flick– acquired for Sauve- was not re-signed) makes this another draft failure for Boston.

2009

Background: As the B’s headed to Montreal for the draft they had plans to make a splash by trading disgruntled star Kessel, reportedly to the Leafs for Tomas Kaberle and a top-10 selection. Apparently Leafs GM Brian Burke didn’t get the memo about the pick and even thought the Bruins were going to give them their first-rounder (25th overall), but this is hearsay. Bottom line- the deal fell through though Burke would pay a higher price for Kessel a few months later, while Boston held their first and hoped to do something with it after a great regular season and second-round playoff flameout vs. the upstart Carolina Hurricanes.

Who they wanted: Rumors abound that the B’s would have used that Leafs first-rounder on OHL power forward Zack Kassian. At the time, he was being compared to Lucic as a player with the physical prowess and skill to make a difference in all facets of the game. It hasn’t happened for him yet, and B’s fans can be glad that Kaberle and Kassian were not the trade returns the team got for Kessel, though Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton and their ultimate fates as Bruins are a discussion for another day.

Who they took: Jordan Caron, RW Rimouski Oceanic. Sometimes, a player looks like absolutely the right fit and things just don’t work out. Anyone who says they questioned Caron at the time is probably writing revisionist history, because though his skating issues were documented, Caron also had some of the better hands and pure finishing skills of anyone in the draft class. He even made an early impact in Boston, coming up during the 2010-11 season and flashing some impressive scoring on a few plays. Unfortunately, he never seemed to put it together during his time in Providence, and when in Boston, his play (and Claude Julien’s confidence in him) regressed to the point that by 2014-15, he was a popular internet message board whipping boy. When Caron was dealt to Colorado for Max Talbot, most looked back at the pick and felt like he was the can’t miss prospect who did exactly that.

Who they should have taken:  Ryan O’Reilly, C Erie Otters. The 33rd overall pick made the NHL right away and developed into the gritty, two-way forward and heavy player that suits the Boston style so well. He has since been traded to Buffalo and landed in hot water with the law recently, but on the ice, he’s tough to play against and can provide timely scoring, something Caron was never able to do.

The picks: 25- Caron (153gp 12-16-28-78), 86- Ryan Button (0 NHL gp), 112- Lane MacDermid (21gp 2-2-4-36), 176- Tyler Randell (0 NHL gp), 206- Ben Sexton (0 NHL gp)

The verdict: Again, not much to show for the draft picks, though Caron, Button (part of the Seguin trade) and MacDermid (part of Jaromir Jagr trade) all fetched return assets for the Bruins, so it’s not a total wash. Still- teams don’t draft players with the idea of making them trade chips. Randell and Sexton are still in the Boston system, but neither flash anything more than potential as NHL journeymen/role players, so another missed year in 2009 looks like fait accompli.

Conclusion: It’s easy to go back and play Monday Morning GM 8, 7 and 6 years later, and the Bruins are far from the only ones who have hosed up drafts in multiple years (hey- Vancouver, Phoenix, Calgary and so on- here’s looking at you!), but this is what we tend to do. After the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the team began a natural progression downwards without fresh, young, skilled talent to replace aging veterans. To the B’s credit they got back to the finals in 2013 but could not beat a superior Chicago Blackhawks squad that had effectively re-tooled after winning it all in 2010 and captured another Cup this past June. The Blackhawks have done a great job of hitting on drafts, which was essential to their keeping enough talent in the system to off-set salary cap-driven personnel moves. They’ll be an interesting team to watch with their new look.

As for Boston- those missed years from 2007-09 forced the Bruins to play catch up and while the 2010-14 drafts have been more productive with talent yet to sink or swim, the team’s future may ultimately lie with how well the club did in 2015- with 10 picks, 6 of them in the top-52.

Here is Michael Monroe and Hanoi Rocks to bring it on home…