The Boston Bruins have to be one of the league’s biggest surprises this season. After missing the playoffs last year, they fired Peter Chiarelli, the architect of their 2011 Stanley Cup winning team, and handed the keys to former defenceman Don Sweeney. From there, Sweeney spent his first summer at the helm dismantling the organization, as he jettisoned Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic to Western Conference teams for a collection of draft picks and prospects. And well, Martin Jones, who was quickly traded for a draft pick and a prospect.
After their mini garage sale, it was widely expected that the Bruins were going to entire somewhat of rebuilding phase in which they likely wouldn’t be competing too aggressively for a playoff spot. Now, a week before the trade deadline, the Bruins are sitting in a tie for second place in the Atlantic Division and appear to have the potential to do some legitimate damage in the playoffs. That said, Loui Eriksson, an important aspect to their elite offence, is set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer, so the Bruins are facing the difficult prospect of either keeping him for their playoff run and trying to re-sign him, or selling him at the deadline for an asset and not risk letting him walk away for nothing.
Eriksson is currently tied for third on the team in points with 46, and he stands alone in third in terms of goals with 21. He boasts an even strength Corsi For percentage of 52.7, which is also third on the team among players who have played at least 500 minutes. He averages a shade under 20 minutes of ice time per game, and plays in both power play and penalty kill situations regularly.
Long story short, Eriksson is a good player, and is a valuable asset to the Bruins. He’s also turning 31 in July, and he’s going to be looking for a decent pay raise on his current $4.25 million annual salary. Judging by his history as a producer over his career (six different 20-goal seasons, three 70-point seasons), and what he’s accomplished over the past couple seasons in Boston, Eriksson will likely command a deal in the ballpark of $36 million over six years.
Is he worth that kind of cash? Right now? He absolutely is. And over the next couple of years, there isn’t much doubt that, barring injury, he’ll continue to make the investment worthwhile. But Don Sweeney and Co. can’t just be worrying about right now, they have to make the right decision for the team in the long-run.
Currently, they have just under $41 million invested in David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid, and Tuukka Rask beyond the end of the 2016-17 season. Notice who’s missing? That group doesn’t include Brad Marchand, who’s current contract expires in July 2017.
Marchand has been an excellent forward for the Bruins for years now, but he’s stepped up this year, putting together the best season of his career. He’s leading the team in goals with 30, putting him on pace for 46 over an 82-game span, and he’s posted the second-best possession numbers on the team behind only his linemate Patrice Bergeron. And he’s done all that while making more defensive zone starts than he ever has before in his career.
The Bruins will likely begin discussing a contract extension with Marchand this summer that’ll have him join Krejci and Bergeron as the Bruins’ core forwards locked up well into the future. It’s hard to say exactly what the dollar value and term would look like, but I would start at the $7 million per year range as an absolute minimum, unless Marchand decides he doesn’t care about being paid market value for his services.
So when you start to look at the future of the Bruins, you have a group of four forwards and one goalie operating a combined cap hit of roughly $32 million, depending on what Marchand eventually signs for. Also, when looking at that aforementioned group of players the Bruins have signed over the next few years, there’s a very clear, gaping hole on defence. This is something that’s been discussed at length about the Bruins, and it appears to be the team’s biggest point of interest heading into the deadline if they do ultimately choose to be buyers.
So do you really have the money to be offering a soon-to-be-31-year-old $6 million or more to stick around and be a part of it? Probably not, unfortunately.
The Bruins would be smart to sell Eriksson at the deadline. If they could somehow, someway get him signed to an extension before Feb. 29 rolls around that’s heavier on dollars but lighter on term, then yeah, I would say go for it. But we all know that isn’t happening, so Sweeney has to make the best of this situation. That could involve sending Eriksson to another contender for a package of prospects and picks and using other assets to acquire a winger to fill his place in the lineup, or it could mean swapping him straight across for a solution to their woes on defence.
There are a handful of different options, but all of the best (and realistic ones) ones involve Loui Eriksson being traded at the deadline. The last thing the Bruins need is to either come out of this whole thing empty handed in the summer, or find themselves anchored with a bad contract when they’re legitimately looking to contend for a championship in a few years.