Vancouver Canucks: How to solve the Loui Eriksson problem

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 14: Loui Eriksson #21 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Florida Panthers at Rogers Arena February 14, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n
VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 14: Loui Eriksson #21 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Florida Panthers at Rogers Arena February 14, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n /

In the summer of 2016 the Vancouver Canucks’ General Manager, Jim Benning, signed free agent Swedish forward Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal. Today we look at why that deal has become such a concern for Canucks fans.

On the face of it, the decision to sign Loui Eriksson was a perfectly reasonable one for the Vancouver Canucks to make. He was coming off a 30 goal, 33 assist season and, being a former three-time 70 point forward, the six years and $36m remuneration was fair market value.

His 63 points would have led the Canucks in scoring that season, as would his 30 goals. For a team starved of offense – only two players, Daniel Sedin and Jannik Hansen, had more than 16 goals – it was a decision by the best of intentions. The team needed offense, and Jim Benning signed the player he felt best-placed to provide it.

Furthermore, Benning told Canucks fans at the time why he felt Eriksson was such a good signing:

"“Loui is an excellent two-way forward, an elite scorer and playmaker with great defensive instincts. He is an accomplished player who helps our team now and in the future as a leader and role model for our young players to follow. We’re excited to have Loui join our team and help us compete every night.”"

After a promising 5-4-0 start to the 2018/19 season, there are less talking points than normal for Canucks fans. The lack of physical response to the Mike Matheson hit on Elias Pettersson has been put to bed; talk over Brock Boeser‘s lack of scoring has also been shelved. However the current main topic of conversation is Loui Eriksson – and just exactly what should the Canucks do with him?

The Eriksson conundrum

Eriksson’s first two seasons with the team are generally considered a dismal failure. In 115 games across those two years, he potted just 21 goals, adding a measly 26 assists. He scored an infamous own-goal on his Canucks debut, which really set the scene for his offensive troubles. The Canucks won that game in the shootout, with an Eriksson assist on the one Canucks goal.

After Loui was apparently brought in to play the latest role in the revolving door of Sedin linemates, Eriksson failed to create any chemistry with his countrymen. He has generally failed to create chemistry with any of his Canucks team-mates, bar one who we shall discuss in a moment, and has spent a large portion of his time in Vancouver bouncing up and down the line-up. Fans have been critical of the Canucks for bouncing Nikolay Goldobin around the team – there hasn’t been a similar baying for blood in Loui’s case.

A promising start to the season alongside Elias Pettersson made us all sit up and take note – could this be the re-birth of Eriksson? Could we finally see the $36m man contribute the offense we so desperately wanted back in 2016? Sadly not.

Related Story. What to do with Loui Eriksson. light

What options are there?

As with any player, there are three main options: play him, trade him, or buy him out.

Loui Eriksson’s contract is, quite simply, buyout-proof. As per, a June 2019 buyout would stick the Canucks with a $5.5m cap hit for the next two seasons, and $3.5m in 2021/22. The last thing this team needs is a Maple Leafs-esque cap crunch, where Elias Pettersson or Quinn Hughes sit out because an Eriksson buyout cost the team its cap space

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. This is where Jim Benning made one of the biggest mistakes of his tenure – he gave Eriksson a NMC (first two years) which turns into a NTC (this year and next year), then into a modified NTC in the last two years.

He also allowed the contract to be signing bonus-driven, making it buyout-proof. For all the criticism Mike Gillis received for his handing out of NMCs/NTCs, hindsight shows this contract to be worse than any Gillis ever gave out.

So, a buyout isn’t likely. What about a trade? Scott Rosenhek delved into the financials of the Eriksson contract earlier this year and found that the financial elements stack up favorably – Loui is owed $14m over the remainder of this season, and the subsequent three years of the deal.

A deal that pays $3.5m per season, but has a cap hit of $6m, is the dream of several of the league’s financially-challenged teams, such as Ottawa and Arizona. However Loui has a NTC, and he surely wouldn’t waive it to ship off to one of the league’s basement-dwellers, especially when this Canucks team is trending upwards.

That just leaves the option of playing him. Which is what I believe we’re best doing. Coach Green has two options here – either try and get Loui’s offensive mojo going, or cut to the chase and utilize him as a defensive specialist.

Offensively, Eriksson has had two years to get some chemistry going, and to put some points on the board. He’s struggled to do so with every linemate he’s had and is scoreless in six games since opening the season with three assists in two games.

Now 124 games into his Canucks career, it is time to end any expectations Canucks fans have of Loui Eriksson being a 30 goal, or even a 20 goal, scorer on this team. And we should be fine with that, if he can provide the defensive prowess the team needs in the bottom six.

The main issue Canucks fans appear to have with the Eriksson contract is that it’s a lot of money, and a large cap hit, when he isn’t doing what Jim Benning told Canucks fans he would do – perform as an excellent two-way forward as an elite scorer and playmaker. However, Eriksson clearly does have great defensive instincts, and it is those instincts that will keep him in the line-up when EP40 returns from his concussion.

The solution

The Canucks need to continue to employ Loui Eriksson alongside Brandon Sutter, and simply forget the $6m price tag. Eriksson’s AAV is a red herring – a cap management issue, rather than an on-ice issue, and it really shouldn’t impact on discussions about his role. He’s no longer an offensive contributor, so let’s make the most of the defensive qualities he has.

After Saturday’s excellent checking role against Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand it’s clear that Loui is indeed capable of doing a quality job defensively. He played 14:32, his third-consecutive game with increased TOI, and helped keep two of the most dangerous scorers in the NHL off the scoreboard.

We want to see more of that from a guy whose Corsi For % is riding at 50.7% this season (meaning the team is generally driving play more when he’s on the ice). And who knows – perhaps he’ll rediscover his scoring touch with a regular assignment, rather than moving around the line-up? Last night’s effort against the Capitals wasn’t his best, but he was far from alone in having a sub-par night.

A call to Canucks fans worldwide: Let’s get off Loui’s case, get behind his new deployment, and look forward to the return of Elias Pettersson. With Eriksson slotted alongside Sutter, he can play to his one remaining strength and allow the burden of scoring to fall on others. With a solid PK and two good checking lines, we can allow Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Boeser to do what they do best. Score goals and take this team to the promised land.

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Question for TCWers:

Should Coach Green re-unite Loui Eriksson and Elias Pettersson when the Canucks’ Calder favorite returns from his spell on the sidelines? If not, who should play with EP40?