Midway through a six-year, $36 million contract, it’s safe to say that nobody associated with the Vancouver Canucks can be very happy with Loui Eriksson’s production on the west coast.
Signed on the first day of free agency in 2016, Eriksson was coming off a 30-goal season with the Boston Bruins.
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Three years later, Eriksson has scored 32 goals – over the span of three seasons.
To say that the 33-year-old has been a disappointment would be an understatement. The length of his deal raised eyebrows at the time, but most assumed he would at least help the team in the short term.
Injuries slowed Eriksson’s production somewhat during his first two seasons in Vancouver, limiting him to 65 and 50 games, respectively. But he was uninjured last season, missing only one game, as a healthy scratch.
Not happy with the coach
Instead of owning it, Eriksson appeared to deflect responsibility for his play during a Swedish-language interview this week with Ronnie Rönnkvist of HockeySverige.se.
“[Head coach Travis Green] and I don’t really get along,” Eriksson said (translated with the help of Google Translate).
“It is difficult when I do not get the same confidence that I have received from all the other coaches I had during my career. Of course, it is tough on that front.”
Eriksson was once an NHL All-Star. He was remarkably consistent during his days in Dallas, scoring between 26-36 goals and 63-73 points in four consecutive years.
He had a pair of disappointing seasons in Boston, but took off in his third year with the Bruins, scoring 30 goals and 63 points.
But it’s been a tough go for him in Vancouver. Eriksson was brought in to ride shotgun with the Sedins – an experiment that failed miserably.
“Obviously Vancouver is a cool city to play in,” he said. “Canada is known for hockey and there are many fans there… but in fact it has been very tough for me there.”
“I haven’t found a role on the team. Especially during the last two seasons.”
“The last two seasons I have played less and in a defensive role. I also can’t put up the same points as before if I do not play in the roles I had before.
“But I must do my best and fight on.”
That certainly sounds like a player pointing the finger at his head coach.
It’s a chicken or the egg theory, of course. It’s difficult to score when you’re playing on the fourth line and killing penalties more than you’re playing on the power play.
But where the excuse rings hollow is when you consider the opportunities Eriksson has squandered.
He’s had chances
Now the highest-paid player on the team, the Canucks have given him multiple chances to succeed.
Under Willie Desjardins in 2016-17, Eriksson was glued to the Sedins early on. He played big minutes too, playing 18:57 per game, including 2:31 on the power play before he suffered a season-ending injury.
During the 64 games Eriksson was healthy, he produced just 24 points (11-13-24). That ranked him seventh among Canucks forwards, behind noted offensive dynamos like Brandon Sutter and Markus Granlund.
So you’ll excuse fans if they’re not buying what Loui’s selling.
There’s only so many times you can go back to the well with a player expecting different results before it becomes the definition of insanity.
Green has actually been criticized for being too kind to Eriksson. The veteran Swede played 16:16 per game (including 1:24 per game on the power play) during Green’s first season behind the bench – fourth-most among Canucks regulars. He repaid the coach by scoring just 23 points (10-13-23) in 50 games.
Eriksson pointed to his lack of ice time as an excuse last season, adding that his body “feels good.” But for the former star, foot-speed has become an issue in an increasingly fast game. He’s still responsible defensively, but hasn’t even shown flashes of greatness in Vancouver.
That’s why Eriksson’s ice time dropped to 14:04 last season. I mean, if the shoe fits…
Eriksson says he believes he can still be a good player in the league, but that seems like a long shot at this point. He turns 34 this summer and hasn’t broken the 30-point plateau in over three years.
Eriksson was asked about the possibility of a buyout, which would seem farfetched given the construction of his contract — after next season’s signing bonus kicks this summer, he’ll have collected $27 million of the $36 million he’s owed. A trade is the more likely option, though it would need to be in exchange for another bad contract like Milan Lucic’s or include a sweetener for a non-cap team.
Eriksson would also need to waive his no-trade clause, which becomes a modified no-trade clause in 2020.
“People can say what they want and it can spread quite quickly,” Eriksson said about buyout rumours. “As it looks now, I will play in Vancouver next season as well, but you never know what can happen. We’ll see what happens after the summer.”
Scoring for Sweden
Named to Sweden’s entry in the IIHF World Championship that begins May 10, Eriksson will get an opportunity to play with good players. Perhaps it helps kickstart his career.
Eriksson scored two goals and added an assist for Sweden in a 6-4 win against Russia in exhibition play in Stockholm on Wednesday. Both of his goals were assisted by Elias Pettersson, who had three helpers in the game. Jacob Markstrom got the win in goal, stopping 23 of 27 shots.