In less than 27 days, we’ll know how the Boston Bruins respond to the Loui Eriksson trade scenarios—even if his future with the team still isn’t clear.
Eriksson is set to become a free agent at the end of the 2015-16 season. He’s on pace to score 25–40—65 and have his best statistical season since 2011-12, let alone his best in Boston. As for the Bruins, they’re in the playoff picture, hunting for a wild card spot or better with 31 games left to play. And Eriksson has been big part of the team’s success. He has played in every game, is third among Bruins’ forwards TOI with 19:38, and is second in points on the team only behind Patrice Bergeron. What’s more, Eriksson’s two-way play makes him one of a few select Bruins you’d want to have on the ice at any situation.
But the Bruins have been in this situation before—last season, in fact. Instead of moving upcoming free agent Carl Soderberg at the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline, the Bruins held onto him, essentially losing him for no value when they traded his rights prior to July 1st to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2016 6th round draft pick. Had the Bruins been successful consummating a trade in-season, Soderberg would have likely fetched a much greater value than what they ended up with.
This season, the stakes are higher—the Bruins’ errors in the rear-view mirror and a much better player and key contributor right in front of them. The Bruins will be forced to either act on an Eriksson trade this month or re-sign him before his contract expires on June 30. There’s no in between. And if the Bruins do decide to move Eriksson at the trade deadline, there will still be questions.
Most importantly: would this Bruins team be good enough to make the playoffs?
If the Bruins decide to move Eriksson, it’s debatable what they could acquire—it’s even harder to figure out what they’d even want. But what they need is defense. While they’d lose a significant forward, the Bruins would likely want to acquire a young defenseman that could help the team now but be a reliable anchor on the blue line for future seasons. A veteran rental that could slide onto the third line might be a bonus, too.
That’s all well and good, but there are some issues that need to be worked out. For one, Eriksson would be moved as an expiring contract. If the Bruins were to acquire a key player in the trade, it’d likely either be one with an expiring contract, which wouldn’t make much sense, or a pending restricted free agent, which the Bruins already have plenty of to deal with after this season. But, they’ll get something, rather than risking losing him for nothing in the offseason. For a team that has looked eerily similar to last season’s squad, there’s definitely a fear of history repeating itself in multiple ways.
If the Bruins decide to trade Eriksson, they’ll be left with an obvious hole in their offense. Brett Connolly isn’t a sure thing playing on Bergeron’s line, and while Ryan Spooner has played some games at wing, something would be missing. By trading Eriksson this month, the Bruins are essentially saying they’re content with however the season ends. They’re really only trying to avoid a repeat of last season, this time with a much better player.
Still, it’s not impossible to think that the Bruins could trade Eriksson and still make the playoffs. The Bruins are hurting on defense and will absolutely miss Eriksson’s play in the final stretch, but worse teams have rallied with less.
The benefits are there going forward for the Bruins, too. It would no doubt open up opportunities for players like Frank Vatrano and maybe even Seth Griffith to play in Boston. It’d probably mean more ice time for Spooner, a heavier reliance on David Pastrnak’s offense, and plenty of cap space to sign Brad Marchand.
Regardless, Eriksson is definitely one of the keys to the Bruins’ success going forward. And if he does get traded, then yes, it’s likely the Bruins could miss the playoffs. The Bruins need to figure out if it’s worth hanging on to Eriksson for the foreseeable future or start to pack it in for this season. Regardless of whatever they decide, they’re going to need to pick a side soon.
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