Loui Eriksson, via agent J.P. Barry, has a good idea that come July 1, when his market expands from one bidder to 29, he can land the long-term extension the Bruins are wary of giving him.
The Bruins, while respectful of Eriksson’s contributions and his worth as a player, have identified that an extension north of four years does not correspond with the wing’s window of maximum value, nor with the raises his younger teammates are due.
That leaves the two parties, prior to Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, where they stand now: at a significant difference.
“They have their position and we have ours,” general manager Don Sweeney said on Sunday prior to the Bruins-Lightning game. “We’d like to find a deal. But it hasn’t happened to this point.”
At this point, it is unlikely that either side bridges the gap to where Eriksson will sign an extension before the deadline. It is Eriksson’s right to chase maximum security and salary in his first and final kick at the unrestricted free agent can. At the same time, it is the organization’s mandate not to threaten its long-term cap security.
This leaves the Bruins in the unfortunate but necessary position of trading one of their three best players this season while chasing a top-eight spot in the Eastern Conference. Only Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have made bigger impacts than Eriksson.
Andrew Ladd and Eric Staal have already moved to the Blackhawks and Rangers, respectively. Eriksson is the third member of the top tier among rental forwards. This year, he’s been better than both Ladd and Staal. As such, the return for Eriksson should be better than the bundle that went back to Winnipeg and Chicago.
The Jets received prospect Marko Dano, a 2016 first-round pick, and a conditional third-rounder in 2018 if Chicago wins the Stanley Cup. The Hurricanes acquired second-rounders in 2016 and 2017 and prospect Aleksi Saarela. The return for Eriksson will reinforce Sweeney’s arsenal for the offseason improvement that is most required: a top-four NHL defenseman. Such pieces are not available at the trade deadline, and certainly not for a rental like Eriksson.
“Loui’s a good player,” Sweeney said. “He’s having a great season. He’s very important for our success up to date, and we treat it as such. If another team — and I’ve had several discussions with teams — felt that was equal on that side of it and the deal was the right fit, then that’s something we’d explore. But my preference has been, all along, to try and sign him and go from there.”
The Bruins have executed the exercise of determining how trading Eriksson for futures would impact the rest of the run. It’s not pretty.
Eriksson touches the game in just about every area. He is a versatile wing who can play both sides and on every line in five-on-five situations. As the net-front and right-side goal-line presence, Eriksson is critical to the production of the No. 1 power-play unit. He is a trusted penalty killer.
“I think it would be a significant impact,” Sweeney said of trading Eriksson. “We realize what Loui’s impact on our hockey club is night after night. It’s significant. We’d have to look to make sure — whether internally, we have some guys that can help — but more than likely, you have to bring in a player, whether in one more or subsequent moves, that would be able to fill that gap. To me, it would be a big loss to our hockey club, for sure.”
But the Bruins have both Eriksson’s long-term projections and their own future priorities to consider. If they invested term and money in Eriksson, it would leave them searching their wallets for enough cash to pay Ryan Spooner, Torey Krug, Brett Connolly, Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, and Zach Trotman, who are all restricted after this season. Of the six, Spooner and Krug will get the biggest bumps. The Bruins will re-up Connolly and Miller, but they may face a decision on whether Morrow or Trotman belong in their long-term future.
After next season, Marchand will be eligible for unrestricted free agency. The Bruins have no intention of seeing Marchand even get close to testing the market. He will get a raise, one that starts at $7 million annually. These factors leave Eriksson as the Bruins’ best trade chip for future assets.
The Bruins would recall Frank Vatrano from Providence to assume some of Eriksson’s performance. Vatrano, who had six goals in 30 games for the varsity, has scored at a scorching pace in the AHL. Vatrano is second in the AHL with 25 goals in 25 games. Mike Sislo, the league’s leader, has just one more goal in 50 games.
But Vatrano would be just one piece in replacing Eriksson. The Bruins would need more help. While moving Eriksson out, Sweeney would be best served with two complementary trades to acquire another wing and blue-line help. The current roster needs assistance, especially if Eriksson is no longer on it.
The Bruins started Sunday in fifth place in the East. They are playing in the junior circuit. The powers remain in the Western Conference: Chicago, Los Angeles, Anaheim, St. Louis, and Dallas. The Blackhawks threw down by acquiring Ladd, Dale Weise, and Tomas Fleischmann. Teams such as the Ducks, Blues, and Wild, who could use Eriksson’s skills, have to keep up with Chicago.
Although the Panthers improved by adding Jiri Hudler, Teddy Purcell, and Jakub Kindl, Washington remains the runaway favorite in the East. The Bruins’ priority is to make the playoffs. They could even win a round because of the East’s deficiencies and the experience of their lead dogs: Bergeron, Marchand, Tuukka Rask, and Zdeno Chara.
But the Bruins are realistic. Regardless of how they improve before 3 p.m. on Monday, their roster will not match Washington’s because of its back-end shortcomings. Even if they kept Eriksson without signing him, their odds of making a deep run would not be good.
No team in a playoff position wants to wheel a core player. The Bruins’ current circumstance, however, dictates that the hard thing to do is also the right thing to do.