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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin - USA TODAY Sports

Deep Dive: What Happened to Loui Eriksson?

Loui Eriksson’s back-to-back disappointing seasons should be the type of thing that makes a player the poster boy for bad free-agent contracts. Instead, the market has been stunningly quiet about a player with an AAV of $6 million dollars and another four years left on his deal.

I can’t speculate as to why the topic has gone underreported in the mainstream media; but I can tell you that part of the reason he’s mostly escaped criticism from the blogosphere is that he hasn’t actually performed as badly as his counting stats might suggest.

Player GP G A P P/60 CF% relCF%
Loui Eriksson 50 10 13 23 1.48 49.21 +2.89

For the majority of his career, Eriksson’s had a positive shot impact. This season was no different, as Eriksson’s teammates generally performed better with Eriksson than they did away from him in terms of on-ice shot differential.

Overall, Daniel and Henrik Sedin performed better away Eriksson than he did away from them, but that’s not an indictment of Eriksson’s play. In fact, it actually helps explain why Eriksson’s offence has taken such a hit since signing with Vancouver. Together, the Sedins and Eriksson routinely controlled above 55% of the shot attempts at even-strength. They quietly dominated the opposition, even when the goals weren’t there. When Henrik and Daniel weren’t playing with Eriksson, they still got to play with each other and usually saw ice time with either an offensive driver like Thomas Vanek or Brock Boeser, or possession-driving winger in Jake Virtanen. When Eriksson was away from the twins, he was usually left with more offensively challenged linemates like Markus Granlund and Brandon Sutter. The Sedins also saw the league’s most extreme offensive deployment under Travis Green, and Eriksson’s numbers with and without them reflect the different ways that Travis Green utilized his forward lines.

Any discussion of Loui Eriksson’s time in Vancouver usually begins with a simple question: what happened? To answer that, first you have to answer the question of what type of player Loui Eriksson is in the first place.

Eriksson is perhaps the one of the most boring 30-goal scorers in NHL history. When looking at highlights from even the heyday of his career, you’ll see very little of the flash and creativity that’s a staple among the league’s other goal-scorers. Eriksson isn’t particularly fast, and he doesn’t have much of a shot. What he is great at is stick work in tight, specifically around the crease. Eriksson’s success has traditionally come from going to the net and either outmaneuvering the goaltender or chipping in a rebound. It’s that skill set that’s made him so successful on the man advantage, particularly in relation to how he’s fared at even strength.

Eriksson had a tremendous contract year and a fairly successful stint overall with the Boston Bruins, but his production on the power play helped disguise the fact that his 5v5 scoring pace has been on the decline since his trade out of Dallas. At this stage, the days of Loui Eriksson as a driver of even-strength offence are likely a thing of the past.

 

Despite being known as a goal-scorer, Eriksson’s even-strength offensive production has traditionally been more in line with what would be expected of a very good second-line winger. Eriksson’s first season in Vancouver was truly abysmal for a variety of reasons, but in 2017-18 his even-strength production rose back to just under the rate he saw for much of his time in Boston. What changed was that the Canucks’ power play improved drastically under Travis Green; but did so largely without Eriksson. Willie Desjardins actually used Eriksson a fair bit on the power play, but he was unable to replicate the success he’d had with previous clubs. With the addition of Brock Boeser and a new coaching staff that was no longer reluctant to utilize Bo Horvat on the first unit, Eriksson’s power play time took a huge hit. Eriksson saw the lowest PP TOI of his career, which helps to account in part for his poor counting stats.

Even this doesn’t completely explain Eriksson’s drop off, however. Since coming to Vancouver, Eriksson’s 5v4 production has dipped as well. Eriksson may not have played much at 5v4 last season; but he also didn’t perform well either, failing to register a single goal and recording just three assists in just over 70 minutes of power play time. Some of this could just be due to age. While I wouldn’t completely discount that possibility, I also think it’s an insufficient explanation. The good news is, Eriksson hasn’t stopped going to the net. While his high-danger shots are down from where they were a few seasons ago, he’s still getting a lot of shots from the area where we’d expect him to do the most damage both at even-strength and up a man.

Because Eriksson has traditionally derived much of his production from so-called “garbage goals”, he’s traditionally converted on a high number of his shots. Since arriving in Vancouver, his shooting percentage has sunk from his career average of 13.2 to below 9%. Something else that’s changed for Eriksson is quality of his team’s power play. The Bruins have been one of the league’s top power play teams over the past five years, a trend that’s continued without Eriksson. It’s not a knock on him, but it’s clear he benefited more from the Bruins’ powerplay than it did from him.

The analytical work being done on the powerplay still lags a bit behind it’s even-strength counterpart. While we can look at things like shot generation, the numbers don’t always match up with the results. This is likely because success on the man advantage relies more heavily on shot quality. That being said, one could see why a high shot volume powerplay would be beneficial for Eriksson considering how much of his offence is generated off of traffic in front of the net. When compared against the Bruins’ powerplay from Eriksson’s stellar 30-goal campaign, the Canucks of the past two seasons come up short.

While the Canucks’ powerplay improved drastically under the Canucks’ new coaching staff, it had more to do with the addition of a one-shot scorer in Brock Boeser than it did with increased shot generation. (Although, to their credit, that improved as well.) The reason this is important with regards to Eriksson is that more shots equals more rebounds. Rebounds have been shown to create more scoring plays than just a straight shot, likely because goalies have a tougher time getting across to stop them. This is particularly important for a player like Eriksson, who does all his best work right in the goalie’s kitchen.

Four of the league’s top 60 rebound generators on the man advantage played for Boston in 2015-16: David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug, and Ryan Spooner. They also happened to be Eriksson’s four most common linemates at 5-on-4.  They combined to create 30 rebounds on the man advantage that season. In Eriksson’s first year with the Canucks, the team’s top four rebound-generators combined for just 19. In his most recent season, the Canucks actually improved their rebound generation significantly thanks largely to the additions of Brock Boeser and Sam Gagner; but both seasons had one thing in common: Eriksson didn’t see ice time with the team’s top rebound generators. In his first season, this was just because Willie Desjardins wasn’t particularly great at putting his players in a position to succeed. This season was different. Green had a number of offensive options at forward on the power play, and Eriksson just didn’t make the cut. He would have benefited greatly from playing with a player like Boeser, but they played just 3:40 together on the man advantage.

Moving forward, Eriksson could stand to benefit the most from the Sedins’ retirement. With two spots opening up on the team’s first unit, Eriksson is likely to not only see more power play time, but see it with players that can complement him.

It’s also worth noting that Eriksson played well for long stretches of the 2017-18 season. In the latter half of November, Eriksson had 10 points in as many games and looked to be on pace for another 50-point season. Then he went ice cold for over a month. His pace looked to be improving towards the end of January and into February until he sustained a season-ending injury against Arizona. He still finished with just one less point than his first season in Vancouver despite playing 15 less games. There’s a case to be made Eriksson was having his bounce-back season, he just couldn’t stay healthy enough to see it through. For so many reasons, a production increase for Eriksson is long overdue. Unfortunately, if he can’t stay healthy, none of this matters.

Conclusion

That was a lot of numbers, a lot of charts, and a lot of information. So, to summarize:

  1. Eriksson remains a good two-way player at even-strength.
  2. While he’s had some bad luck, it’s important to note that his 5v5 production has been on the decline for many years.
  3. If Eriksson is going to improve his offensive output, it’s going to have to be largely on the man advantage. Unfortunately, he’s seeing less time at 5v4 than ever, which could be a problem.
  4. Eriksson benefits greatly at 5-on-4 from playing with players who can generate rebounds. Unfortunately, he hasn’t gotten to do that consistently.

Eriksson’s first two seasons in Vancouver have been a good case study in the importance of organizational symmetry and a strong pro scouting department. Eriksson hasn’t really been put in a position to succeed thus far in Vancouver, either because the organization targeted him for the wrong reasons (i.e. to be an offensive driver on his own rather than a complimentary player), or because the coaching staff wasn’t in line with management on how he should be utilized.

All hope is not lost with regards to Eriksson. He’s due for a run of good luck, and there are signs that he could benefit greatly from some of the forthcoming changes. Travis Green has shown in his first year that he’s much better at playing to the strengths of his roster than Willie Desjardins was. He’s never going to be worth that contract, but returning to the realm of  20-goal scorer isn’t out of the question. Don’t be surprised if Eriksson finally has that bounce-back season.

Author’s note: This article was originally intended to be Loui Eriksson’s entry in the Year in Review series. Because it expanded well beyond the usual scope of a YIR piece, I decided it deserved to stand on it’s own. As a result, to avoid redundancy, there will be no “official” Loui Eriksson Year in Review this year.

 

  • If they move Baertschi I think Eriksson could have chemistry with Bo and Brock. Bo can drive the play with speed and if goaltenders can manage to stop Brock it’s probably a lot to ask them to also control the rebound. Lou plays smart and cleans up garbage. That doesn’t mean his signing wasn’t a complete disaster, but may as well use him wisely.

  • The Eriksson contract is frustrating from so many angles. Through just a “traditional hockey” lens, it’s dangerous to sign an over-30 winger to big term and big money, and you *definitely* shouldn’t do it when your team isn’t competitive. Then you take a deeper dive into the data and see Eriksson’s even strength play is on the decline and his scoring has been propped up by playing on one of the league’s best powerplays, and it raises so many more red flags.

    This remains one of the most baffling and unjustifiable contracts given out in recent years.

      • And there will probably be quite a few on July 1st 2018 and 2019. Some teams will be horribly burned. Canucks should stay away and let their ever-growing crop of prospects mature and excel.

        • I agree about this being a bad contract. I thought it was a bad signing at the time. However, even I wouldn’t have predicted he would be underachieving this badly in his first couple years with the team.

      • Will any of these contracts compete with the ten worst buyouts off all time? Weiss $10 million, Ribiero $11.7, Ehrhoff $12, Semin $14, Grabovski $14.3, Yashin $17.632, Richards $20.67, Bryzgalov $23, Dipietro $24 and Lecavalier $32.67 million. I’m guessing 2 or 3 will join this list. At least Eriksson can’t supplant Lecavalier at number 1!

    • “This remains one of the most baffling and unjustifiable contracts given out in recent years.”

      What’s most baffling IMO is the current Pro Scout set up. Their reads on Vet players must be near the bottom of the league. Let’s hope we don’t sign further FA’s this summer and compound their already miserable history

  • Eriksson is marshmellow soft and then they pair him with `Black Hole` Sutter. They bench Goldobin for being soft but Eriksson gets more icetime the softer he gets. I`d put both on waivers and hope someone picks up their contracts. Add Guddy to the ever growing list of questionable pick ups on bad contracts.

    • Eriksson still is really good defensively. If he was on a 3 mil contract most fans would be happy having him teach the younger players how to play a complete game. Goldobin didn’t get benched for being soft, he was benched for bad decision making leading to giveaways and for a lack of effort and consistency. That seemed to improve near the end of the season, which may indicate the limited ice time and benching had the desired effect on Goldobin.

      • Eriksson – much like Lucic – has quietly slipped into semi-retirement. Telling him to waive his NTC or spend his time in the press box Eriksson would say; Great! Four years at six mill and I don`t have to do anything but watch.

        • Yup, that was the fundamental flaw in signing Eriksson, they got him to prioritize security over compete. And while I imagine he still puts the work in over the offseason, you can’t eliminate the fact that as he drives to the rink each day he knows the majority of his team mates are not near his level.

  • I agree with this article. I also think Loui will probably do much better going forward, and the lack of the Sedins means changing things up. He also may see some time on a line with EP and that could be fun, He probably has a complimentary skillset to Loui. I think he got played in more shutdown roles, because he is good at that too, then the boxcars look bad next to the $, then you get injured, then you lose your mojo, etc. Green is going to have to tinker with things and put him in a role to succeed (top 6 and net front). If i’m not mistaken, the hardest part of his contract is back loaded anyway. Worst case scenario, he is still a decent player (on this team), best case he bounces back and we keep him or move him for assets.

  • Here’s what I think may work for Eriksson:

    1. Keep him on the PK
    2. Use him in the PP in the “Daniel” spot. There should be a lot of garbage from Pettersson and Boeser shots, and maybe a few Edler shots that get through.
    3. One suggestion was to put him with Bo’n’Flow. Another may be him with Pettersson and whoever centers them.

  • Good contracts in order: 1. Tanev 2. Horvat

    Bad contracts in order (worst to least worst): 1. Gudbranson 2. Sutter 3. Eriksson 4. Dorsett 5. Del Zotto 6. Hutton 7. Gagner

    • Sutter’s definitely overpaid but his contract is certainly not second-worst – he’s a centre, he has trade value, the contract ends in a couple of years and it’s not buyout-proof.

      The length and buyout-proofing of Eriksson’s contract makes it the worst of the bunch (even worse than Gudbranson).

      • I debated that for sure. The context of Sutter’s contract was what did it for me though. Overpay for him in a trade and then give him 5 years and a NTC without him stepping on the ice. The top three are all terrible for different reasons and interchangeable in my mind. Eriksson, as bad as the contract is, has at least shown he can be a premier offensive player…what had Sutter shown? At the point of signing his two biggest accomplishments were his last name and his high draft position.

        • Sutter is a shutdown centre and a 50%+ face-off guy, who will also score 10-15 goals per year. I really don’t think that there was ever any expectation that he would be a premier offensive player. IMO, he’s done his job far better than Eriksson has. I thought Sutter was one of their most consistent players last year.

          • Dirk22:

            p.s. he’s a career <50% FO guy

            In his first six years, Sutter’s faceoff percentages were 38%, 49%, 45%, 50%, 50%, and 47%.

            But in the following fours years it has been 51%, 52%, 54%, and 52%.

            Calling Sutter a 50%+ faceoff guy is fair.

          • “Sutter has been on the ice for almost exactly three times as many defensive zone faceoffs as offensive zone faceoffs.
            Only Ryan O’Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres averages more than Sutter’s 9.7 defensive zone faceoffs per game, which includes shorthanded situations. On the penalty kill, Sutter leads the league in faceoffs taken by a wide margin: 3.2 per game, with Mikko Koivu’s 2.7 per game the next highest.
            On top of that, Sutter has been hard-matched against the opposition’s top lines all season. You can see from this visualization of Sutter’s competition and teammates from HockeyViz, that Sutter has faced the top three forwards on the opposition far more than average this season.”
            http://www.vancourier.com/pass-it-to-bulis/brandon-sutter-winning-in-the-playoffs-and-a-strong-link-game-1.23207548

          • “10-15 goals per year is not bad for a guy billed as a 20 goal guy.” liqueur
            Sutter averages 16.4 goals per 82 games seasons over his entire career.

  • Good article.

    “Travis Green has shown that he is much better at playing to the strength of his roster” Amen. Willie’s deployment at times was a head scratcher. I look forward to see how Travis juggles his lines and line combinations. I also believe Eriksson will benefit from Sedins retiring. New look and a fresh start should help Eriksson to a respectable season.

    Off topic: Nashville – Winnipeg just started. It’s really too bad that the season has to end for one of these great teams. Should be a good game.

    • On the whole I thought Green did a good job of using his players. He used some pretty extreme deployment tactics which helped a lot of players and hindered others but I think there’s a strong case that it was the best way to approach what he had to work with. I’m really curious to see how he uses Eriksson next year and whether his lack of first unit time was due to circumstance or if he just doesn’t like him on the PP.

  • I don’t have much of an issue with Eriksson aside from the money he’s making and luckily even that won’t be much of an issue when it comes to the team overall. 4 more years is a touch on the long side but the canucks can deal with that easily enough. By the time other players need those 5 to 6 million dollar contracts he’ll be done.

    On the ice he’s simply meh. Yes I know….6 million is too much for meh…and that is totally true. But at least when I’m watching a game I’m not yelling his name because he’s made some kind of bonehead play like other members of the team. He’s in no way a liability on the ice. On the contrary, he’s very reliable aside from the non production. And I’m OK with that.

    I agree with the point that the Sedins leaving may open up some ice for him and allow him to be his own player instead of the guy “brought in to play with the twins”. I think he is probably quite capable of bouncing back offensively. 20 goals from him shouldn’t be unrealistic I think.

    For me, the long term prospects for the remainder of his contract look far far more appealing than Lucic does for the Oilers, so it could be worse.

  • First off congrats to Jackson on a top quality article, keep em coming!
    As for Eriksson, I don’t see what the hand wringing is about, he does his job albeit while being overpaid but who would we have in his place? Lucic? No thanks.

  • I have no problem with Loui, I enjoy watching him half-heartedly backcheck and go in the corners for puck retrievals.
    I really enjoyed watching him score an own goal and his onfamous eyerolling into the back of his head.
    Erickson and Granlund are pretty much the same player, one makes 6 times more than the other.

    • Defensively articulate,scoring near a .5 PPG average on a team without offensively gifted d-men.
      LE scores his goals down low and there aren’t a lot of shots being generated on net from the Canucks d-men.
      Every GM pays too much on the opening day of FREE Agency and then consider what veterans would require when asked to sign with a rebuilding team.
      Term and $$ are 1 and 2 and/or 2 and 1.

        • He would have been rewarded with the same- or more $$ -anywhere he wanted to sign.
          Green sticks him in a 3rd line/ defensive role and you soil your pants.
          Rebuild plus a ton of cap space with an offensively -gifted,defensively astute veteran suggests LE isn’t the problems many suggest.

          • So let him sign elsewhere. “Well someone else would have made the same mistake!” doesn’t change the fact that this contract was a horrendous mistake.

            There’s simply no rationale for this. The team didn’t need Eriksson, and shouldn’t have signed him. Eriksson will be 35-36 when this team is at the point where they might have benefitted from 30-year-old Eriksson. Three years from now when they’re hopefully back in contention, needing to re-sign a number of talented RFAs, bring in some good UFAs to complete the team, and they’re hampered with a bottom-six, 35+, slow, badly declined winger making $6 million on an untradeable, buyout proof contract.

          • You were going fine until “untradeable”. You are over reacting. Any contract can be traded. The canucks got rid of Lu’s contract. Dumping Eriksson’s will be a piece of cake if they need to.

            As for the other part, it will not affect the signings of any of the young kids even if it’s still around. In the next 3 years they have nearly 24 million coming off the cap. Eriksson is the year after that. which makes 30 million coming off the cap in 4 years.

            Cap is going up about 5 million this year right? Probably increase after that too.

            This contract is almost zero of an issue for the canucks. Come to think of it…it’s looking more and more like Benning has done a masterful job preparing the timing of cap space for the rise of they young players. He’s got a lot of filler on short term contracts with almost no NTC’s or NMC. Even Eriksson has to provide a list of almost half the league, in two years.

            I agree it’s not a good contract because of performance, and maybe Benning should have thought it through more prior to signing, but the other reasons you’ve listed are complete exaggeration.

        • It’s indefensible in retrospect, let’s faced it. Clearly they thought he’d provide a finisher/net-presence for the twins and it hasn’t happened.

          He’s not hot garbage, and is not the reason for the teams lack of success, but it is so clearly a cautionary tale about free agency over-payments. No team should go this route unless the player is a going to fill a hole in the roster you need to put your team over the top and make you an actual cup contender.

          Even then, if you don’t bring home the cup (at which point all is forgiven for about a decade), you risk all these contracts being boat anchors. Just because he doesn’t deserve to be crapped on completely, nor does JB for trying to find a middle ground to rebuild/stay competitive, but this signing was a mistake, clearly. How can anyone say otherwise? Whatever he brings to the team, as positive as it might be, could have definitely been found for less money AND less term with another player. End of story.

  • I think there actually might be a possibility to trade Loui. You won’t get much back, and you’d have to eat salary, but since the contract is mostly signing bonus you can trade him to an internal cap team in a season after you’ve already paid him his bonus. The acquiring team doesn’t have to pay him much real money, and they get a strong 3rd line possession driver. Arizona maybe?

    • Exactly this. The contract is an overpay, sure. But it is in no way a boat anchor as portrayed in the comments. Loui is an very good player. His contract will allow him to be moved when the cap space MAY be needed (15 team no trade list). He can play anywhere up or down the lineup, on the PP and on the PK.

      • Precisely.
        Thinking that solid veterans are lining up to come play in Vancouver is one fantasy.
        Believing that the Canucks are going to pay market value or underpay for them is yet another fantasy.
        When Loui was signed the twins needed a winger and he had success with them on the international stage.
        The fact that he has suffered injuries and has played on a very low-scoring team with no offensively gifted d-men in a defensive role tells the of his time here.
        We heard this same whine with Miller,Dorsett,Sutter,etc..

  • The article on Baertschi showed that Loui was 3rd on the team in shot assists behind Henrik and Bo, and ahead of Daniel.
    If Loui is a good two-way player who is one of the team’s better players for finding teammates for shots, he seems like an excellent candidate to put on a line/wing opposite Elias Pettersson.

  • I’ve pretty much learned to accept the fact that this contract is what it is. In 20 / 21 the Canucks can start working on trading him and exposing him to Seattle. Just use him like he’s a $3 million dollar player for now. Not a $6 million dollar player.