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Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea - USA TODAY Sports

Loui Eriksson is Having a Far Better Season than You Probably Think

Vancouver greeted Loui Eriksson and his six-year contract with a furrowed brow, and the first of these half-dozen seasons has done nothing to sate the skepticism.

Whether one ascribes to the notion the Canucks need to compete now or take their lumps for a better tomorrow, both sides can acknowledge this is a team three-to-four years from even getting within a stone’s throw of contention. Eriksson, 31-years-old, has a buyout proof contract, and in a best-case scenario won’t depreciate with time — worst case, he’s a millstone hanging from the next wave’s collective neck.

Everyone could agree, though, that the Canucks were bound to get their money’s worth in at least years one and two, and perhaps another indeterminate number of seasons thereafter. Eriksson, sidelined with a lower-body injury, has 11 goals and 13 assists to his credit for the 65 games he’s played. Prorated over a full season, it’s his lowest pace since his rookie season in 2006-07.

That’s an awful lot of nothing for the healthy $6-million the Canucks have invested in Eriksson this season, and then again annually for the five that follow. On the surface, year one of the Eriksson experiment is an unmitigated disaster, made especially distressing when one considers one of its chief aims was to breathe life into the Sedins’ careers, and well, that hasn’t exactly gone to plan either.

How far that drives fan ire is different from person to person. Some think Eriksson a poor player for his contract; others think him a poor player period. That doesn’t flesh out when you peel the layers back on Eriksson’s onion of a season, though.

Defensively, Eriksson’s played as advertised. The Canucks control the second-best rate of shot attempts with him on the ice as opposed to any other regular member of the lineup. Eriksson also has the second best impact on his linemates ability to control shot attempts at even strength.

On average, Eriksson’s linemates are better off for having him along for the ride. He’s consistently done the legwork to create an environment for sustainable offence at even strength.

You’d want that to flesh itself out by way of goals and assists, but hockey is a fickle sport. Sometimes you get the bounces, as Eriksson did when he put together a 30 goal season last year with the Boston Bruins, and other times, the only luck one can find is bad luck, and Eriksson’s used about six year’s worth and his first campaign isn’t even at a close.

Among players with 500 or more minutes at even strength, only 68 players have a lower personal shooting percentage. His on-ice shooting percentage isn’t much better, and other contextual nuggets include playing with the fifth-lowest quality of teammate by expected goals percentage among any Canucks skaters.

All this is to say that Eriksson is owed a better fate than the one he’s suffered. He’s playing tough minutes and doing everything in his power to put the team in a position to leave with their heads above water.

That doesn’t make the Canucks any better this season (or worse, depending on how nihilistic your brand of fandom) but it bodes well for Eriksson going into, at least, year two. Eriksson is in no way a bad player or one who’s even performing poorly. In fact, if you look at Expected Plus-Minus, he’s the Canucks best forward.

*Players with slightly out of date data **Players traded from the Canucks

For those unfamiliar with that stat, here’s a link to DTMAboutHeart’s literature on the subject, and a small blurb from Hockey Data’s Corporate Technical Officer and Hockey Graph’s Managing Editor, Garret Hohl, on the subject.

If and when Eriksson’s percentages normalize — and we know how this movie usually ends — I fully expect that he’ll produce at or near career norms as early as next season, and probably another few afterwards. This is a player who’s surely on the downslope of his career at 31-years-old, but that doesn’t make him altogether useless.

That’s going to be hard for Canucks fans to reconcile. Eriksson’s contract is, in a way, a focal point for everything that’s wrong with the way this franchise has operated for the last three seasons.

 

It’s fascinating, in a way. The league underestimated Eriksson so woefully, for so long. Part of the reason you wanted a player like Eriksson on your team was because of everything he did that wasn’t caught in the mainstream conscience of hockey minds — the obvious accolades like goals and the like. Those players are always far cheaper than they should be.

The problem in this instance, though, is that Eriksson’s 30 goal season in Boston forced the league to take notice. Whether that’s right or wrong, it strips him of one of his best assets, which is his ability to contribute beyond his salary.

Vancouver shouldn’t be fighting with the league to back up a Brink’s truck into the Eriksson estate; they should be fighting with the league to find the next Eriksson or a market inefficiency of similar stature.

The Canucks might not get their money’s worth this season. It’s possible they don’t for most of the six they’ve signed Eriksson too. That doesn’t make him any less of a player, though. And there’s every reason to believe that he’s a hell of a better player than he’s looked in Canucks green and blue so far.

  • Locust

    It was the constant (and I mean CONSTANT) whining and yapping coming from places like the blogosphere that forces management into a corner (from the ‘public eye’ perspective) to “do something” – that’s how you end up with a situation like this.

    Louie has had a bad year. That is on Louie.

    I agree with you that there is still a significant upside. Again, that is up to Louie.

  • HockeyTruther69

    For once I agree with J,D. Eriksson is leading the canucks in takeaways, a key sign that he is the best defensive player on the team. The big problem here though is that he is 82nd in the league. For a team that values defense and structure so much this is bad.

  • Friendly Neighbourhood Canucks fan

    People see intangibles when they want to which is the sad state of fandom across all teams, not just ours.

    Eriksson is our best 2 way forward and one of our top 2 forwards defensively. Those numbers don’t show up on the stat sheet but neither do the perceptions of Sutter. How does one player warrant more praise for work in his own end when there are no perfect measures of that play, yet the only stats available are in favour of Eriksson. Not saying Sutter is a bad player, I think he’s a fine 3rd line C but if you can somehow find intangible benefits of Sutter, where’s the love for Loui too?

    Another small case involves Edler and Sbisa. Now I know Sbisa is generally seen as useless by all the logical fans out there but one fallacy I see is the perceived “toughness” he has over Edler. Edler has more hits per game than Sbisa…

    I think a lot of it boils down to their backgrounds to a small extent. Eriksson being a Swede is not seen as “tough” or bring the “grind” that Canadian players supposedly have. Now Sutter does bring that something we could need for a hypothetical playoffs scenario but Eriksson’s defensive value is also highly valuable and should be known by the fanbase. Do I think Eriksson has performed at a value of $6 million? No. But has he performed at a worse level relative to his contract than any other veteran? No. He’s been fine, he’s a solid 2nd line winger with bad puck luck this season.

    • Hal

      All you have to do is to look at who penned this load of rubbish to understand that there is no common sense behind it. To suggest Eriksson will be a hell of a lot better because….why? He couldn’t possibly be any worse is a pathetic attempt to justify this signing. Just admit Benning and Linden dropped the ball big time on this one. 6 years at 6 million per for a responsible forward who just might get better at 31. Sorry, that doesn’t fly.

      • Friendly Neighbourhood Canucks fan

        All you’ve done is say a bunch of words with no meaning, perhaps a role in the US gov’t would serve you better? Can you tell me why other than your NHL Hall of Fame worthy eye test you believe the random load of bull youre just spewing? Common sense says shot percentages go up and down and usually stick around the career average. That’s a start. There are concrete numbers showing the Canucks aren’t bad defensively with Eriksson on the ice.

        Listen if you don’t like stats because numbers make your brain hurt and you just want to believe what you want, don’t go on the Internet. Just stay in your bubble where you don’t need to be challenged and say what you want to say in the comfort of your own home without any regard for logic and common sense. Ignorance is bliss after all

    • Hal

      No he hasn’t been close to being fine. He’s been dreadful all season. You can’t blame an entire season of poor play on “bad puck luck”. He’s gone through entire games without getting a shot on goal. There were guys on PTOs that could have produced better results than Eriksson has. Let’s quit sugarcoating this awful signing and tell it like it is.

      • Friendly Neighbourhood Canucks fan

        Entire season of poor play? Where is that from? Your eye test that is universally regarded by the masses of the NHL??

        I’m going to try to spell this out slowly for you. This player has had a certain average so percentage overy his entire career. This year, it has fallen, and in most cases of professional hockey players, there are rises and falls within a career. One should expect him to play back towards his career average. Is that too hard to understand?

        Also, Eriksson has played with almost every forward on this team. Much like most of our other guys, you can’t expect high end production with inconsistent linemates. This applies to pretty much our whole lineup.

        If you’re going to make a point, at least try to back it up with something. A 4 year old can say “he sucks”, do better. Unless you are 4 years old in which case, good point

        • Hal

          I never said “he sucks” brainiac, you did. Signing a 31 yr. “responsible defensive player” to a 6 yr. 36 million dollar contract makes sense to you? Ok, maybe you and JD Burke should hang out together and pat each other on the back saying what a brilliant move this was. Try watching a handful of games. It’s not difficult to see what they have in Eriksson. A very average player with no upside. Maybe he’ll turn the corner at age 32 hey? Ya think?

          • Friendly Neighbourhood Canucks fan

            Watching a handful of games? How about 50 of them. That work for you?

            “Dreadful” and “entire season of poor play” is pretty on par with suck by the way. Mincing words there doesn’t change your original thought.

            He is not worth $6 mil, I have said that but ignoring his positive defensive play is not smart. It’s not difficult to see what they have in Eriksson. A stable defensive forward with an unusually low shooting percentage this season.

  • Steamer

    Obviously, Eriksson was the ‘Plan B’ – what Benning really wanted was to re-sign Cody Hodgson, when that fell through…
    Seriously, hoping it was was ownership insisting on Loui, because if it was actually the G.M., then heaven help us. The future is not in 30+ year old second-tier – ie: not a Crosby, Malkin, Kane et al ‘tier-one’ – player. Deals like this that really serve to derail season ticket renewals. By the way, if management is ‘forced into a corner’ by fans’ criticism, then they don’t deserve to run an NHL club. How is Eriksson going to look in in the years to come? surrounded by youth & speed, taking up a roster position & bloating the payroll unnecessarily, a constant & obvious embarrassment to Benning – & fans – for 5 more long years.

    • Hal

      I have to believe this was a Benning-Linden decision. Benning was obviously familiar with Eriksson with his time in Boston. I can’t believe the owners said ” hey, let’s sign this 31 year old player to a 6 yr. deal and I’ll pay him 36 million bucks!”

    • Silverback

      On the contrary, I see Erickson picking up his game when surrounded by youth and speed. This team will have grown and matured by one more year by this time next year, the Sedins will be talking retirement, and Erickson will have a consistent set of line mates. Time will tell, though.

  • Hal

    All you have to do is to look at who penned this load of rubbish to understand that there is no common sense behind it. To suggest Eriksson will be a hell of a lot better because….why? He couldn’t possibly be any worse is a pathetic attempt to justify this signing. Just admit Benning and Linden dropped the ball big time on this one. 6 years at 6 million per for a responsible forward who just might get better at 31. Sorry, that doesn’t fly.

  • myshkin

    you’re putting lipstick on a pig. louie is having a good year for a 2 million dollar a year player but for a 6 million dollar player (actually making 8 million), he’s an abysmal failure.

  • GoodUserName

    You know Im probably in the minority here on this one, I think signing Eriksson with the clubs previous mandate of retooling on the fly was OK, I think management knew we needed more firepower upfront to be competitive. I also knew quite a few people who were excited about the signing, he fits with Willies defensive structure pretty nicely. I dont like his price tag, and the fact when the canucks are finally contending again his contract is gonna be an anchor, along with luongo’s penalties if he retires early. If we were to be completely honest with each other though, I dont think free agents see Vancouver as a top destination anymore. So to attract anyone decent we are gonna have to pay above market value for them. I think Eriksson had multiple offers around the same price because of last year. I think we could have done worse then Eriksson, look at the rough season lucic is having playing with mcjesus, or Ladd. Im not saying this is a totally defensible signing, what Im saying is management did the best they could to achieve their previous goal, and maybe the canucks can draft a sweet centerman this june. I think with Erikssons style he needs a quick crafty puckmover to really shine, Henrik is now pretty slow, Horvat is a heck of a player but so far I see his main strength is on the rush going north-south, Sutter isnt a good puck distributer.

  • Hockey Warrior

    Guys, it’s time to STOP with the EXCUSES and DELUSION, this is another glaring Benning BUST.

    Eriksson was brought in on massive money and term as a TOP LINE player to SCORE goals, to play alongside the SEDINS and prolong their career with their so called ‘instant chemistry’ and also to create a netfront presence on the PP scoring in the dirty areas. It’s been an EPIC FAIL on all those counts… on an equally cr@ppy team KYLE OKPOSO, on the same deal, has 20 goals and 43 points in 63 games compared to Loui’s WOEFUL 11 and 24 points in 65, and he is also a MINUS 9… so much for the ‘sound defensive’ two way play then!

    Keep drinking the koolaid Loui fans… i will keep sipping the Dom Perignon.. chin-chin

  • Dirty30

    Two things missed:

    1. This is no longer a winning team that can stand on its record or its players as a potential draw for other good players. If you can play with Sid or McJesus do you play for Willie and the Plodders in a beer league style if a dozen other teams offer you cash and term as well?

    So JB likely has to overpay in some ways to get veteran talent. Duly noted.

    2. Loui in at six mil forever and Miller likely gone; Burrows and Hansen gone; Dorset likely bought out, Sutter maybe exposed or traded … Sedins? Who knows.

    But Loui will provide some continuity in veteran leadership that’s expensive but necessary. Note the Oilers ton of talent and zero leadership from Lowe on down for a record on futility.

    Finally, transition from West to East — different play, less travel — typically easier and helps prolong careers. Note Bonino, Burrows, Shea Webers success … note Lucic , Loui, and PK’s season.

    Loui may get better as a player, but realistically he is fighting uphill against age and the rigours of playing in the West. Hopefully JB takes note and stops idolizing guys from the East and just gets busy building a decent team from the youth movement.

    • Hack-smack-whack

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head D30. With more and more veteran players coming off the books, and no foreseeable future franchise player type contracts (with the exception of Horvat), I don’t see this contract as deserving of the ire that has come with it.
      Management has added an asset that provides stability and strong exemplary play for the crop of young players that are developing. It’s easy to take a superficial look at what Loui has accomplished (or not accomplished) this season and condemn the signing, but let’s not forget we are trying to build future careers here, and this teams future success will likely be built on more than just pure star power. Without a Crosby or Doughty in the system, the Canucks future will likely be built on good players that play a complete game.
      And while I’ll admit I’m disappointed in the year he’s had, it’s easy to see the positive in this, as he hasn’t hurt our position in the draft while providing stability for the young guys.
      If this contract does in fact become an anchor down the road, then I think we can safely say that our future cap problems are due to good player development and augmented player worth. At which time we will have another asset that can then be moved for the perpetuation of our cupboards.

  • apr

    11 goals, 13 assists, and a -9 and the fancy stats tell us he is having a good year. You can’t put lipstick on a pig, maybe mud wrestle with it a little. He’s had a terrible, terrible year. It does not mean that next year will be a write-off, and we just signed David Clarkson, but call a pig a pig – he’s been terrible.

  • Freud

    Eriksson has spent 272 5on5 minutes with Sutter, or about a third of his season. Eriksson is 47% possession with Sutter and 51.5% without Sutter. Sutter gets remarkably worse without Eriksson. A third of Eriksson’s year was with an anchor.

    If Eriksson simply shot his career average sh% this season, he’d have 6 more goals and would be approaching a 20 goal season.

    Last season Eriksson got 17 points in 238 minutes of PP time and was mainly on the ice with Bergeron and Krug. This season he’s seen 160 minutes on the 2nd unit and was on the ice with Megna for 50 of them.

    So, his season is not as bad as it appears, if you look at context. You could say part of his struggles are a result being put in bad situations this season.

    The greater argument, though, is why this player was brought in at this time in the team’s cycle.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    I don’t think we’re 3-4 years from being a stone’s throw from contending, JD. I think we’re probably 3-4 years away from contending, but that’s a different thing altogether. I think we will probably, barring any dumb personnel moves, make the playoffs in 2019, and from there anything can happen.

    I mostly agree about Eriksson being decent, but the issue is that the contract was the kind that a team ready to admit they need some rebuilding doesn’t sign. Loui’s better years on the contract are going to coincide with the years where our team isn’t in a position to win, meaning there’s not a point in signing free agents to push us over the edge. There’s some value in having good veterans around, but not enough to justify top liner money and long term.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Good post, JD. The Eriksson signing might have been a reach for a team that was obviously on the downswing, but of the top free agents was likely the best option. He will rebound, and be an asset going forward. The $6M will hurt towards the end of his contract, but only if the cap stays stagnant. With a new coach and a new system, we may see him play closer to value. He really has not been put in a situation to score to his potential (2nd power play, 3rd line), yet the fancy stats show that he has likely made those that he has played with better.

  • wojohowitz

    Maybe this is what really went wrong this season. Eriksson was signed to play with the twins but Willie decided to `balance out` the scoring. All three players are having their worst season since being rookies. As Burrows said; Nice to be with a team where everyone is buying into the coaches message.

  • Bud Poile

    Two seasons past Hank had 73 pts. and Dan had 76.
    Last season seemed to be an aberration so a good fit for the twins seemed an astute move.
    Unfortunately,like Vrbata,L.E. has had to mentor / play with the kids as the twins fight the clock.
    This is a fair piece by J.D. and is welcomed.
    Hopefully,mgmt.finds/signs another scorer and the twins / Loui have a resurgent year next season.

    • Dirty30

      JB did find a scorer and Coach promptly sat him on the bench the moment he did score.

      Vrbata wasn’t mentoring anyone unless you consider floating and being selfish attributes worth passing on.

      Loui might turn it around or he might realize that playing in Boston sheltered him as well. Ideal would be he turns it around or asks to be traded … more likely is that given his age and the demands of playing in the West he ends up on LTIR.

      Hopefully this is the last desperation signing by JB and the beginning of a new era for this team. They have to stop running this team for the Sedins and start transitioning to new players and new systems. The poll on 1040 indicates fans want something new and I actually believe JB could deliver that but not if TL keeps being sentimental about the Twins and Coach.

      No one wants to give the Twins the bum’s rush out the door but it’s time to transition this whole team to a new look, new players, new emphasis and yes, new Coach.

      Another season of this garbage and this team will make Glendale look like a hotbed of hockey.