When I was in college, the Boston Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in my lifetime. It was a defining moment for me as a hockey fan.
Naturally, I was outraged when they wouldn’t pay Nathan Horton what he wanted two years later, letting him slip away to the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency. Hindsight is 20/20 on that particular deal, but at the time, it seemed like a very special team was being dissolved.
Fast forward three years, and the Boston Bruins are faced with another pending free agent dilemma – this time with slick, skilled winger Loui Eriksson.
The Boston Bruins are in a very different situation in 2016 than they were in 2013, when they opted to walk away from Horton. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were on their way up, Zdeno Chara was at his absolute best, and they could afford to shed some of their secondary talent. Horton was a great power forward, sure, but they also had that in Milan Lucic; they had a little bit of excess in nearly every area at that time, despite a disappointing Stanley Cup final loss.
This year, it seems they don’t have much of an excess anywhere. Marchand and Bergeron are likely at the peak of their games, Chara is on his way down, and there are more questions about Rask each season.
David Krejci is still very talented, but he’s getting older. David Pastrnak could be the next Tyler Seguin from an offensive standpoint, and Frank Vatrano seems promising, but without Eriksson, the team seems to lose a step. And that’s not even touching the weaknesses on the blue line.
At what cost should they keep him, though?
From a pure scoring standpoint, Eriksson seems to be a middle six contributor – nothing more, nothing less. He’s got top six potential, but is that worth six million per season?
Let’s use $6 million as a rough estimate for what a pending free agent may want, in the second half of his already-illustrious career. There’s no guarantee of 20-30 goals from Eriksson, which was a given in his younger years. That makes him, at least currently, a depreciating asset – not something a team wants to shell out money for.
Assuming the team can edge Eriksson down on term, though, and think again – is he maybe even worth paying some top dollars for?
Right now, he’s a steal. The Bruins are currently shelling out just $4.25 million per season for a player who sits in their top five in scoring in all situations. Let’s take a look at his last three years in comparison to another player who we know wants a $6 million price tag per season, Arizona Coyotes winger Mikkel Boedker:
It gets even more appealing, of course, when you take a look at the closest comparables – based on season – to what Eriksson is producing right now:
2007-08 Marco Sturm? Yes, please.
Looking at the numbers, it seems a given that Boston will be working hard to re-sign Eriksson. Numbers, after all, don’t lie – and the truth they tell is that Eriksson largely makes his team better, both from a possession standpoint and an offensive one. After a disappointing 2014-15 campaign, it’s doubtful the Bruins want to do anything that could directly conflict with good scoring and possession again.
At that point, we have to look beyond the numbers, and that’s when the picture becomes less clear.
The Bruins will need to pay both David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand in the near future, and both will need (and deserve) considerable raises from what they make right now. The Bruins will also soon enough lose money off the cap in players like Chris Kelly and Dennis Seidenberg, but they have glaring holes to address once they’re off the books – starting with a defense that doesn’t offer much after a now-39 year old Chara. Eriksson may be useful, but would someone else help more?
That brings it down to two options: re-sign or trade (now or at the draft).
Both actually look quite appealing. Re-signing Eriksson brings an underrated forward, hated for little more than the fact that he was the return on a trade many despised, back into the fold to help the team’s offense remain stable during the best years of the Bergeron-Marchand line. Trading him, though, could bring some much-needed relief on the blue line. Both options hold an obvious pro, while the con is that of lost opportunities.
A good trading partner, though, could kill two birds with one stone.
The Anaheim Ducks have openly asked for help on the wing, and they have a defensive lineup that could see someone go in the very near future. Sami Vatanen or Cam Fowler could head to Boston in a deal with Eriksson, which gives both teams exactly what they need – and if Vatanen is able to be re-signed for less than the top market value as an RFA, that leaves some extra dollars to bring in another winger for offensive help.
There’s also the possibility that the Bruins use one of their two first round picks to replace Eriksson if he’s sent out. Developing prospects doesn’t pay off right away, but is one of the cheapest and most effective ways of building long-term success.
Like with the Horton trade, it sometimes stings to think about losing a player who helps your team win – especially when the team does it intentionally. With the assets Boston currently has, though, Eriksson could potentially help them win more elsewhere – and whether he’s dealt in the next 48 hours or at the draft itself, it could be a move for the better.