VANCOUVER — As he answered questions Wednesday on the eve of training camp, explaining what he should have explained last May, Loui Eriksson said the right things.
He respects coach Travis Green, general manager Jim Benning and the Vancouver Canucks. He knows he should have done better than he has on the West Coast and will work harder. He understands he has to compete for a lineup spot and earn a role this reason.
Eriksson is 34 years old and has played 921 games in the National Hockey League. No one has ever accused him of being a bad pro — at least not until his tone-deaf comments to Swedish media at the world championships that he and Green "don’t really get on 100 per cent" and the coach doesn’t trust Eriksson like previous coaches have.
Eriksson should have called Green the next day to explain himself, but didn’t. So Eriksson’s hand grenade across the Atlantic was interpreted by some as an effort to get himself traded. If so, it was spectacularly naïve because no one is interested in absorbing a $36-million-US player who has scored 32 goals in three seasons since Benning made his biggest free-agent mistake.
Green, a staunch defender of Eriksson in the media, finally got to speak to the player last week.
So, all is good. Except it isn’t.
As of Wednesday, the Canucks are paying Eriksson $6 million for next season and Brock Boeser isn’t getting paid anything.
Boeser, who leads the Canucks with 59 goals and 116 points in 140 games since making the NHL two-plus seasons ago, is practising with the University of North Dakota while waiting out a negotiations impasse as a restricted free agent.
Like many teams with key, unsigned RFAs, the Canucks are unwilling to pay Boeser what he wants on a long-term contract, so the sides are trying to figure out what a bridge deal looks like. But barring a sudden surrender by Boeser or the Canucks, the 22-year-old Minnesotan will miss the start of training camp — something he probably can’t afford given his injury history and slow start a year ago.
Despite plenty of conjecture the Canucks can’t afford a long-term deal for Boeser because Benning has spent Vancouver into a bind. The team can fairly easily make room for its best winger if he re-signs for, say, $7-million per year.
It probably means starting the season with a 21-man roster, maybe even "papering" super-rookie Quinn Hughes to the minors for Game 1, then putting him immediately into the lineup when Antoine Roussel and his $3-million cap hit go on long-term injured reserve after opening night.
Benning told Sportsnet in July — after winger Micheal Ferland was the last of four significant players added by the Canucks in trade or free agency — that the team has several scenarios to accommodate a new contract for Boeser.
"We have a plan in place to get Brock in and be part of our group," Benning said. "He’s a building block for us, a core player, so we’re going to get that figured out."
They’re still figuring.
But the arithmetic would be an awful lot simpler without the burden of Eriksson’s $6-million cap hit.
The Canucks’ probable fourth-liner is getting paid like a first-liner. And the first-liner doesn’t have a contract.
"I’m ready to take any role," Eriksson told reporters gathered at Northview Golf Club in Surrey, B.C., where the Canucks staged their annual charity tournament. "I think they know what type of player I am. I can play really good in the defensive area and I can play up and down the lineup. I can read the game really well. It’s been like that for many years for me. All I can do is just work hard and try to help this team to win games, and play the best I can.
"It’s always fighting for the spots on the team. I think everyone coming in for this training camp is going to fight to earn a spot. It’s the same for me, the same for everyone. All you can do is give it your best and try to earn a spot and find a role on the team. Help the team to win — that’s all that matters."
Asked if he had hoped for a trade, Eriksson said: "I don’t know really what’s going on behind the scene. It hasn’t been working out the way it should have been in Vancouver for me. I’ve really tried to work hard every game I’ve played. If that (potential trade) was talk through the summer, it doesn’t really matter right now. I’m trying to just focus on playing here and playing for this team and helping the team as much as I can."
Eriksson can help the team. As we’ve said before, he’s an excellent penalty killer who can play a shutdown role against the opposition’s best forwards. But $6 million should buy more than that.
"It was nothing to disrespect the coach," Eriksson said of his comments last May. "All I did was just be honest. Me and Travis have talked about it, and I think we’re on the same page. It was a little bit overblown. I have a lot of respect for Travis and I think he’s a good coach."
The good coach needs Eriksson to be a better player.