With the salary cap about to squeeze the Vancouver Canucks hard this summer, there’s no secret about who they’d most like to move.
His name is Loui Eriksson, and he’s tied for the largest cap hit on the team. But he hasn’t scored more than 29 points in a season during his four years in Vancouver.
Eriksson, who turns 35 next week, has two more years left on his contract beyond this season, carrying a $6 million cap hit.
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At first glance, it has the look of an untradeable contract, unless the Canucks were to include a first-round draft pick like the Maple Leafs did to get rid of Patrick Marleau, or swapping for another albatross contract like the Oilers and Flames did in the Milan Lucic-James Neal trade last summer.
And to be clear, there’s no way GM Jim Benning will be able to completely wash his hands of the Eriksson contract. But there are scenarios where the Canucks could move Eriksson in a way that would be beneficial to another team.
Of the $36 million Eriksson was due to make when he signed back in 2016, $28 million was in the form of signing bonuses. His contract is basically buyout proof because of it, but it also makes him more tradeable whenever this season concludes.
After Eriksson is paid his $3 million signing bonus this summer, he’ll be owed just $5 million in the last two years of his deal. He’ll still carry a $6 million cap hit, but in real dollars, he’ll effectively be a $2.5 million player once he gets his next cheque — making $1 million in base salary in 2020-21 and $4 million ($1 million signing bonus + $3 million salary) in 2021-22.
For a non-cap team, that could be a more appealing deal than one they currently have, particularly given the current economic state of the world.
Eriksson’s no-trade clause also becomes a modified no-trade clause after this season, meaning he can block a trade to a list of 15 teams.
Here’s a list of players that other teams might consider dealing for Eriksson.
Karl Alzner (Montreal Canadiens)
- Canucks get: $1.375 million in cap relief
- Canadiens get: A player that can play in their lineup at equal salary
Karl Alzner has two years remaining on a contract that carries a $4.625 million cap hit. But after he’s paid a $1.5 million signing bonus this summer, he’ll be owed the same amount as Eriksson — $5 million over two years.
The Burnaby blueliner is no longer an everyday NHL player, spending the majority of the last two years in the AHL.
The Habs didn’t spend to the cap this season and if they aren’t a cap team next year they might prefer Eriksson — a player that can kill penalties and play in a depth role — as opposed to paying Alzner to rot in the AHL. There’s also a connection with Claude Julien, who coached Eriksson in Boston when he last scored 30 goals.
Surely Eriksson would welcome such a move. The question from a Montreal perspective is opportunity cost. Even if they have cap space, they might be better off using it to extract a draft pick or other assets from another team, as the Hurricanes did with Marleau.
Victor Rask (Minnesota Wild)
- Canucks get: $2 million in cap relief
- Wild get: $3 million in real dollars savings over two seasons
The Minnesota Wild didn’t spend to the cap this season, and if they don’t next year, they could fit Eriksson’s contract if they swapped him for Victor Rask.
Rask has been a disappointment in Minnesota since the Wild acquired him in 2019 and has two years left on a contract paying him $4 million per season. Swapping him for Eriksson would save the Wild $3 million in real dollars, but cost Minnesota $2 million per season more against the cap.
Colin Miller (Buffalo Sabres)
- Canucks get: $2.125 million in cap relief
- Sabres get: $2.75 million in real dollars savings over two seasons
The Buffalo Sabres appeared to make a shrewd move last summer when they acquired defenceman Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights.
But Miller, who scored 41 points for Vegas two years ago, had just 11 assists in 51 games for the Sabres, playing just 17:08 per game. With two years left on a deal paying him $3.875 million in terms of both cap hit and real dollars, it’s a contract the Sabres might like to get rid of.
A swap for Loui Eriksson would actually save Buffalo $2.75 million over two years, but would add $2.125 million to their cap.
If Sabres ownership is feeling the financial squeeze of the pandemic, maybe it makes sense to pull of such a deal. Buffalo spent close to the cap this season but has five forwards set to become unrestricted free agents.
Would Eriksson accept a trade to the Sabres? Buffalo isn’t high on anyone’s list of places to play, but maybe a change of scenery would be enough of a lure.
Frans Nielsen (Detroit Red Wings)
- Canucks get: $750,000 in cap relief
- Red Wings get: $500,000 in real dollars savings over two seasons
This one might be the most realistic option, although it would save the Canucks less than a million dollars.
The rebuilding Detroit Red Wings have Frans Nielsen weighing them down. The 36-year-old scored just nine points in 60 games, and has two years left on his six-year, $31.5 million deal.
After Nielsen is paid out his $2.5 million signing bonus this summer, a swap for Eriksson would save the Red Wings $500,000 in real dollars over two years, but would save the Canucks $750,000 on the cap.
It would also give both players a much needed change of scenery.