Hockey March 14, 2019


You can rest assured that Vancouver Canucks faithful have described Loui Eriksson in any number of ways over the past three seasons. Disappointing would probably be on the short list. Overpaid is guaranteed to land there, too. Several phrases used likely aren’t fit for print, and another few probably amount to nothing more than exasperated gibberish. But after Wednesday night, weary Canucks fans have a brand new way to describe Eriksson, one that a fair number have been waiting a long time to use: healthy scratch.

Yes, indeed. After 184 games in a Canucks uniform, and less than three full seasons into a six-year, $36-million contract, Vancouver coach Travis Green finally pulled the trigger on a move that Canucks faithful will tell you has long been in the cards. Ahead of Wednesday’s game against the New York Rangers, a contest which Vancouver won 4-1 to snap a brief two-game losing skid, Eriksson saw himself on the outside of the lineup looking in, finding a spot in the press box instead of a spot on the bench.

“I want to put (Granlund) back in,” Green said, according to Sportsnet 650’s Brendan Batchelor. “And it’s not like I’m sitting here saying that Loui’s played terrible, but has he done enough where I can’t take him out of the lineup?”

That was a rhetorical question, to be sure. Green knew the answer. Heck, he answered it himself when he made the choice to sit Eriksson down. But it’s worth illustrating the Canucks coach’s point, especially in the wake of Eriksson becoming a healthy scratch for the first time in his somewhat brief and undoubtedly tumultuous tenure in Vancouver.

This season, Eriksson has done little to earn his keep as the highest paid Canucks player, and the 33-year-old likely wouldn’t bristle all that much at the assessment of his play. Earning $7 million this season – a $6-million base salary with a $1-million bonus – Eriksson has contributed less like an incredibly well-paid top-six winger and more like a productive fourth-line player. In 69 games, he’s managed just 10 goals and 22 points, and lest those who haven’t been paying attention to Eriksson’s play in Vancouver go thinking this is a blip on a radar, trust that it’s not. Since signing the big-money deal with the Canucks in July 2016, Eriksson has mustered just 31 goals and 69 points in 184 games. To put that into context, he scored 30 goals and 63 points in one season with the Boston Bruins in 2015-16, his big year acting as the precursor to his cashing in as a free agent.

Unfortunately, it’s not as though Eriksson has redeemed himself greatly in any other facet of the game, either. He’s played the same disciplined game as always, but the two-way play for which he was once lauded hasn’t been enough to make him a useful top-six piece. He’s been tried up and down the lineup, he’s been moved off and onto different special teams units, but nothing has been able to spark him to any sustained success in Vancouver. It just hasn’t worked.

And that has made Eriksson’s contract an unmitigated disaster. Yes, he’s been able to skate some top-line minutes here and there. Yes, he found a spot in the middle six last season. But the majority of the current campaign has seen Eriksson relegated to a third- or even fourth-line role and there’s no end in sight. He’s been leapfrogged by other, younger players. Based on ice time alone, Eriksson ranks ninth among Canucks forwards, only narrowly ahead of the likes of Antoine Roussel, Jake Beagle and Tyler Motte. Not to disparage those three, but safe to say Eriksson is hardly keeping elite company in that regard. In terms of production, Eriksson ranks eighth in Vancouver and seventh in offensive contributions among forwards. But, again, his 22 points are nowhere near enough to warrant his pay.

The issues with Eriksson’s contract aren’t helped at all by the fact all the talk in and around Vancouver is about the future, of which it’s become increasingly clear the veteran will not be a part. With the emergence of Elias Pettersson, arrival of Quinn Hughes and a few high-ceiling prospects on the way – not to mention the presence of Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and a new generation of Canucks – there’s simply no place for Eriksson, or, maybe better put, no place for his contract.

So, that leaves the Canucks with three options: keep Eriksson, trade Eriksson or buy Eriksson out, and each presents its own difficulties.

Keeping Eriksson would be to continue to shell out big money to an unproductive player and potentially hamstring future dealings. Remember, the Canucks will have to wrestle with his contract for another three seasons beyond this campaign. That’s $6 million wrapped up in an unproductive veteran, and that money could come in handy with Brock Boeser in need of a new deal this summer or with Alex Edler looking to re-up or even if the Canucks see a piece worth nabbing on the free agent market.

Trading Eriksson becomes difficult because Vancouver knows full-well what off-loading such a piece will entail. Shipping out Eriksson would require the Canucks to throw in a pot-sweetener or two to a cap floor club willing to eat the additional salary. And even if Vancouver is willing to do so, it’s not as simple as finding a trade partner. Eriksson has a full no-trade clause next season. If he doesn’t want to move, he doesn’t have to. It becomes a modified, 15-team no-trade clause in 2020-21, according to CapFriendly.

And that leaves the nuclear option, buying Eriksson out, which is much easier said than done. Doing so wouldn’t save the Canucks a dime, really, and serve only to remove Eriksson from the roster. A buyout would see Vancouver absorb a $5.56-million cap hit in each of the next two seasons, a $3.56-million cap hit in 2021-22 and then $555,556 for three additional years thereafter. This is to say that while some will cry for the Canucks to buy Eriksson out, it truly does nothing for the bottom line.

What’s the answer? Only Vancouver GM Jim Benning can answer that. But the reality of the situation is that if Eriksson doesn’t want to waive his no-trade clause this summer, the Canucks’ only true option might be to let this play out for at least one more season. There’s nothing to be gained by buying out the final three years of Eriksson’s contract – not financially, not otherwise. Maybe come the off-season ahead of the 2020-21 season, Vancouver can leverage the 15-team no-trade list into a cap-clearing deal that ships Eriksson out of town, but it seems unlikely such a move comes at any point before then.

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