Flashback to July 4, 2013.
Former Boston Bruins’ general manager Peter Chiarelli lit off some fireworks of his own by trading away young superstar Tyler Seguin to Dallas for a package of players.
The main attraction coming back to Boston was a 28-year-old winger in Loui Eriksson. Outside of diehard hockey fans in New England, he was not a household name. Yet, the overwhelming vitriol of the deal itself already put a consistent, two-way forward in Eriksson in a tough spot.
His first season in Boston was a struggle. Two concussions cost the Swede 21 games and limited him to 10 goals and 37 points. Meanwhile in Dallas, Seguin scores 37 goals and 84 points while joining forces with captain Jamie Benn to form one of the dynamic duos in the league. It was a bitter pill for the Black and Gold faithful to swallow.
Two years later, we know two things. First, Bruins fans will never forgive Chiarelli for the deal. Second, Eriksson has turned into a pretty good two-way forward for coach Claude Julien.
The Swedish Olympian has been a valuable asset to Boston’s top-six forward rotation in the past two seasons.
In a down season for the club in 2014-15, Eriksson was a bright spot thanks to his versatility and offensive production. He played in 81 games scoring 22 goals and 47 points, good for second on the team behind Patrice Bergeron (55).
What made Eriksson such a valuable commodity is his ability to play in all situations. Last season, he was one of only two Bruins’ forwards to average over 1:30 of ice time per game at even strength, on the power play and shorthanded.
The other one? None other than Bergeron.
Considering the two played on the same line for much of the season, you shouldn’t be surprised. Both are terrific three-zone players and fit the mold of what Julien’s system preaches; defensive zone responsibility leading to offense at the other end.
The Story of 2015-16
This season, Eriksson has continued his ascendency in the Bruins ranks.
The right winger is tied with Bergeron and Brad Marchand for the team lead in goals (15) and is second on the team in points (37). One area that Eriksson has flourished in is the power play with eight markers on the man advantage, tied for the team lead with…guess who? Bergeron.
Puck possession is an area in which former second-round pick has excelled at. In fact, Eriksson leads all Bruins in even-strength Corsi this season (54.8-percent) while averaging 15 minutes of ice time a night in even-strength situations. He averages almost five minutes of ice time every game on special teams as well (2:45 on the power play, 1:58 shorthanded).
Eriksson is having the best season he’s had in his three-year stay on Causeway Street…and for him, it’s come at the right time.
What Would You Do?
The 10-year veteran is in the final year of his current contract, earning a cool $4.5 million for his services. A quick glance at the list of unrestricted free agents this summer shows a very underwhelming collection of either aging or middle-of-the-pack wingers outside of Kyle Okposo.
That means Eriksson is in line to see some green come July 1 if he gets to the open market. Sweeney and the Bruins have a huge decision to make on his future with just six weeks left before the NHL’s trade deadline. There are three rational options on how to handle the curious case of Loui.
Sign Him To A Long-Term Deal
This appears to be the least likely scenario, especially before the deadline. The Bruins will be cautious on offering a 31-year-old forward a long-term deal of any kind.
It will likely cost Sweeney at least $5-6 million per season to retain Eriksson for the future. With other valuable assets looking for new contracts within the next couple of seasons (Torey Krug, Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak among them), one would have to think Sweeney can spend that money on retaining his younger stars for the future.
It’s also worth nothing there has been no public knowledge of any contract talks between the two sides all season.
Hold On To Him
Is Loui Eriksson bound to be this year’s Carl Soderberg?
Soderberg was projected to be a hot commodity at last year’s trade deadline yet Chiarelli decided to hang on to him for the rest of the season. It turned out to be a big mistake.
I'm suspicious of letting a veteran wing like Loui Eriksson walk, or dealing him for parts. Gotta take one last home-run swing with Chara
— Kevin (@BruinsScience) January 15, 2016
Sweeney finds himself in a similar situation this season. Eriksson has been one of Boston’s best forwards this year and if he either refuses to trade him or can’t find the right deal, Sweeney is taking a huge risk by potentially losing Eriksson for nothing in the offseason.
Surely history will not repeat itself for the second consecutive season in Boston…will it?
Trade Him Away
The final (and most likely) option with regards to Eriksson is to send him packing before the deadline.
It’s no secret the Bruins need a top-four defenseman. Cap space is at a premium while assets are somewhat limited as well. Joe Haggerty joined “Toucher and Rich” on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston on Tuesday, suggesting Eriksson might used as trade bait to fulfill the Bruins’ most pressing need.
“They want a defenseman and maybe another forward, but they have to make a decision with Loui Eriksson if they can’t sign him before the deadline. Maybe he gets moved in a deal like that to bring back a defenseman.”
It makes sense. Figuring out the terms of a new contract that both parties agree on within six weeks is a big ask. As stated earlier, Sweeney and the Bruins would be better off spending the money they would be giving Eriksson on their younger core of players including Krug, Pastrnak and Spooner.
Combined with the current needs of the franchise, all signs point to the biggest piece of the infamous Seguin deal with a new team come March 1.