Loui Eriksson was so frequently slapped with the underrated tag during his prime years for bad Dallas Stars teams that it became a cliché, a fantasy-nerd joke. So when his production slipped, some believed the right wing had become overrated.
Well, perhaps we’ve come full circle. You could argue that the 2015-16 Eriksson — the one producing 0.83 points per game, a better pace than Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, and Matt Duchene — is underrated all over again.
You’re only worth what they’ll pay for you. And if the Swede hits the trade rental market in February, he could fetch the Boston Bruins a heftier return than any other movable forward eyeing unrestricted free agency this summer.
No impending UFA has more points than Eriksson’s 38 this season. Only two — Arizona’s Shane Doan (16) and Tampa’s Stamkos (20) — have potted more goals than Eriksson’s 15. But with the Coyotes and Lightning in playoff position, we’d be shocked if either team shopped its captain by Feb. 29.
Boston is not considered a contender of the level of Washington, Tampa or even the two New York clubs, yet the Bruins currently hold a wild-card spot and popular belief dictates that any team with a ticket to the dance has a shot to go all the way.
But can the Bruins afford to let another star walk for little to no return, especially when Eriksson, 30, could fetch an Antoine Vermette–like haul as a trade chip?
“Loui should bring a first-rounder, from a contender who will pick below 22nd, and a prospect,” says a source close to the Bruins organization. “He has been phenomenally consistent at producing points this season, has been a key part of the [NHL’s second-best] power-play, and has been nothing short of fabulous on the PK as well.”
Eriksson currently makes $4.5 million per year and is reportedly seeking a long-term deal that pays a yearly salary from the high $5-million to the high $6-million range, depending on term. Speculation in Boston is that the Bruins won’t want to cram a contract that hefty into their 2016-17 salary-cap plans, considering a raft of affordable RFAs — Torey Krug, Brett Connolly, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller — will also need to be sorted out.
“We’ve been in discussions with Loui, and the first priority will be to get him signed,” Bruins GM Don Sweeney said on-air Thursday. “Obviously as a player entering the UFA market, he’s trying to gauge what that may be, and we’re trying to do the same. He’s been an important player for us.”
Eriksson spoke to WEEI.com Wednesday but would not say whether he wanted to stay or go.
“I feel really good about my game and the situation,” Eriksson allowed. “I play a lot and play in all different situations. That’s something I want to do. It’s always fun to get a lot of minutes and play in important parts of the game.”
A good tidbit: Eriksson, who was part of the 2013 blockbuster that turned Tyler Seguin into a Star, revealed that he wanted to leave Dallas.
“When that trade happened, it was a good opportunity to come to a really good team,” he told reporter DJ Bean. “It was just a decision right there of, we’d been in Dallas for many years. I just felt like we needed something, needed a change. When that happened and I knew Boston wanted me to come there, it was definitely nice to come and play for a team like Boston.”
During a four-season stretch in Dallas, Eriksson was good for at least 26 goals and hovered around 70 points. He’s back to that level now.
With Eriksson rediscovering his game and his concussion issues seemingly behind him, perhaps the Bruins would be wise to tear a page from the Coyotes’ playbook.
At this time last year, Arizona dealt Vermette to Chicago for a first-round pick and prospect Klas Dahlbeck. Vermette helped the Blackhawks hoist the Cup, then re-joined Arizona in the summer.
Vermette had 38 points all season. Eriksson already has that many with more than two months to go, and we know Sweeney loves stocking up on first-round picks.