Considering his recent production, among other factors, it is a curious time for anybody to propose trading Loui Eriksson. Yet that is exactly what one Boston Bruins beat reporter and pundit has done within the last week.
Three days after Eriksson notched his 10th point in 18 games this season, Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com opined as follows in a Sunday Q&A with his readers:
I think dealing Loui Eriksson is the right move, but you have to wonder how high his value is around the league after the way he’s played in Boston…He’s never going to be a top six forward on a team like the Bruins that demands intensity, emotion, urgency and hard-nosed battle in all zones. Eriksson really isn’t that kind of player.
Those are all fair points. But is it really a top-six supply of those attributes or nothing if Boston and Eriksson are to have a successful partnership?
Recent highlights say not. Eriksson is making plays in multiple situations and continuing to help lend the Bruins a crucially dependable third line.
Granted, the ninth-year professional veteran and eighth-year NHL staple left a prolific track record in Dallas in 2013. Odds are he would embrace the opportunity to return to a top-six slot if it ever arose with another team. Or, at least, it would be hard to blame him if he did that.
But in his current position as the third-line right wing, which he assumed in the middle of 2013-14, Eriksson has demonstrated enough of the qualities the Bruins can ask for. He is meshing with gritty linemates, winning all kinds of scrums for puck possession and helping younger skaters, particularly two-way defensemen, to get on the board.
Through 20 games, Eriksson is on pace to mirror his 61-game production total from last season through 82 games this year. He logged 10 goals and 27 assists in 2013-14 and has a 3-8-11 transcript to his credit now.
Note, however, that he spent the better part of last year recovering from multiple concussions and adjusting to a subsequent depth-chart downgrade. He was originally pegged to be the top piece in the Tyler Seguin blockbuster, filling that spot as Patrice Bergeron’s right wing.
Coming back from that tumultuous 2013-14 season, Eriksson is showing no signs of health-related inhibition. He is, however, demonstrating plenty of hunger for redress and getting the most out of that appetite.
Moreover, he is one of the few proven veterans on Boston's roster who has yet to achieve substantial fulfillment in the postseason. That is a combination this franchise cannot take for granted as it tries to sustain its perennial status as a Stanley Cup contender.
To Haggerty’s first point, Eriksson will no longer suffice in a man-for-man swap involving a first- or second-line winger. But his second season as a Bruin comes with adjusted expectations, which he is meeting.
Carrying over last year’s midseason discovery of chemistry with Carl Soderberg, he has yet to go more than three consecutive games without a point. That one three-game drought occurred at the start of the season, but he has thawed out since.
Assuming consistent health throughout the season, he is on pace for at least 12 goals and 32 helpers for 44 points. Not top-six numbers, but an enviable output by veteran depth standards, which are rightly Eriksson’s standards now.
Boston may want to get older on the right side of its top two lines at some point this season. Unless Seth Griffith proves himself sustainable throughout his surprising rookie campaign, adding a more experienced first-line winger would be desirable.
But the Bruins will not be able, nor should they want to, obtain that upgrade by sacrificing the seasoning on its first depth line.
With their first-quarter results, the Bruins are anything but a lock for the 2015 playoffs. To bolster their hopes on that front, let alone make ripples by spring, they will want Eriksson to bring more of what he is already delivering.
Last Thursday and the subsequent Tuesday yielded the latest batches of evidence as to why they should leave the third line alone. In an otherwise acrid 5-1 loss at Montreal, Eriksson played a critical setup role in Boston’s only bright spot, namely Dougie Hamilton’s icebreaker.
While the Bruins were harboring a 1-0 lead at intermission, NESN studio analyst Billy Jaffe made a point of breaking down Eriksson’s work. Jaffe explained how Eriksson had legally tied up Canadiens blueliner Andrei Markov off the draw, ensuring puck control for the Bruins en route to the goal.
That subtle, yet decisive move speaks to the 29-year-old Eriksson’s veteran know-how. Odds are none of Boston’s other right-wing regulars, perhaps save for 34-year-old fourth-liner Simon Gagne, would have brought that instinct to that situation.
Although that play was not enough to avert Haggerty’s proposition on Sunday, Eriksson offered a longer demonstration of his seasoning during an even-strength sequence Tuesday. His reward was upping his 2014-15 point total to 11 as part of a 2-0 win over the St. Louis Blues.
Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com observed that first-line pivot David Krejci’s reinsertion Tuesday night “allowed Chris Kelly to return to his normal third line with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. The familiarity and relative normalcy seemed to give the team a boost against a tough Blues opponent.”
Given that everybody did enough to shut out an explosive St. Louis offense, which had entered with 47 goals in 17 games, that is hard to dispute. But that boost was most readily evident in the role the third line played in Torey Krug’s second-period insurance strike.
In the 12th minute, Eriksson won multiple battles in multiple areas of the attacking zone to protect the puck from pursuant Blues defenseman Barret Jackman. That bought the Bruins two tries at using playmaking point patrollers Matt Bartkowski and Krug.
Upon receiving a feed from the far faceoff dot, Bartkowski set up Krug for the homeward-bound wrister, giving Eriksson the secondary assist.
The quantifiable credit was a fitting reward for the prototypical depth-winger work Eriksson undertakes. Furthermore, it added to a list of countless testaments to his compatibility with Kelly and, even more, his Swedish countryman Soderberg.
Haggerty makes a valid point when he asserts that Eriksson cannot develop back into a top-sixer. That does not mean he cannot find a new niche and fit in on Boston’s depth chart.
Based on his recent performances and output, he pretty much has found it. Despite their roster-based shortcomings and subpar 12-8-0 start, the Bruins are better off refraining from fixing what is not broken.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com