On July 19, 2019—a day that will live in infamy for connoisseurs of hockey-related memes—the Edmonton Oilers traded Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal. In order to rid themselves of Lucic’s contract—widely considered to be among the worst in the league—the Oilers had to retain 12.5% and give up a conditional 3rd round pick. They also had to take on another of the league’s worst contracts in Neal.
And if you don’t see the relevance of all this to the Vancouver Canucks’ current situation, you haven’t been paying attention.
The 2019 offseason has seen Jim Benning and Co. swing big trades, land major free agents, and draft a couple of potential offensive stars, but still the bulk of the discussion surrounding the 2019/20 Canucks roster has centered around one singular question:
What can be done with Loui Eriksson?
The Lucic/Neal swap certainly proves that it’s possible to move Eriksson and his $6 million cap hit for the next three years. It also proves, however, that doing so will be extremely difficult without giving up major assets or taking on a contract that’s nearly as bad.
The 1st round pick the Toronto Maple Leafs gave up to dump one year of Patrick Marleau this offseason made it clear that there’s a premium price on cap space—something the Canucks can’t afford to pay right now.
Therefore, Vancouver is left with the prospect of adding some form of sweetener to Eriksson and shipping him out for a player whose contract is almost (though perhaps not quite) as onerous as his.
In this article, we’ll be looking for players who match that description exactly—and that means we’re not going to be considering anyone whose contract is clearly worse than Eriksson’s. The list isn’t long, but it does exist—and taking on a more expensive and/or lengthier contract runs counter to the incentive behind moving Eriksson.
Apologies to Brent Seabrook—you’re off the table for now.
It should also be noted that Eriksson has a full no-trade clause until the start of next season, at which point it becomes a 15-team no-trade clause.
Contracts That Are Not Quite As Bad As Loui Eriksson’s
Karl Alzner, Montreal Canadiens
Three Years Remaining @ $4.625 million cap hit
Modified-NTC (7 teams)
Acquiring Alzner for Eriksson would work for the Canucks because he’s a whole lot cheaper—and because, with few salary bonuses, his contract is a lot more buyout-friendly. The fact that he’s a local barely matters—as Alzner would almost certainly be sent to Utica or bought out—but it makes it pretty likely that Vancouver isn’t on his seven-team no-trade list.
The deal only really works for the Canadiens, however, in that Eriksson is still a competent NHL player—whereas Alzner isn’t anymore. They also have the cap space to absorb the difference in salary, though they almost certainly have better uses for it than Loui Eriksson.
Chances are that Montreal would be asking for the Canucks to add some serious assets—think multiple picks or a quality prospect—in such a trade, and that’s probably not in Vancouver’s interest.
David Backes, Boston Bruins
Two Years Remaining @ $6 million cap hit
Modified-NTC (15 teams)
With two years remaining, Backes’ contract is obviously more favourable than Eriksson’s—though he’s fallen so far in recent years that Eriksson is still the better player. Backes is also tough to buy out—doing so next offseason would cost a $4 million cap hit in 2020/21—but at least that would be over with before Elias Pettersson needed re-signing.
The Bruins are probably best to just buy out Backes themselves in a year, but it does bear mentioning that Eriksson’s most recent NHL success came in Boston—where he put up 30 goals and 63 points in 2015/16.
With an aging core, the Bruins are in full-on contender mode—so they could be incentivized to make the swap for a better player in Eriksson. But considering the extra contract year Eriksson carries, they won’t be doing it for free.
Frans Nielsen, Detroit Red Wings
Three Years Remaining @ $5.25 million cap hit
Modified-NTC (10 teams)
An Eriksson-for-Nielsen trade would be a mostly lateral move for the Canucks, though it would save them $750,000 for the next three years. Nielsen is currently a better player than Eriksson, but he also plays a position that the Canucks already have a surplus in.
On the Red Wings’ side of things, their roster could benefit from the addition of a veteran winger—though, again, they can almost certainly find someone better than Eriksson for the job. The franchise does have a lengthy history of success with Swedish veterans, so they may have some hope of turning Loui’s career around—but it’s a longshot.
Ultimately, Detroit would demand an additional asset—and the trade probably wouldn’t be worth it for either team.
Kyle Okposo, Buffalo Sabres
Four Years Remaining @ $6 million cap hit
Modified-NTC (15 teams)
Okposo had a terrible season in 2018/19, but in general he’s performed a lot better than Loui Eriksson since their contracts began. He’s undoubtedly a better fit for the Canucks at the moment and their cap hits are equal, but he also comes with an extra year of contract—and that’s probably not feasible.
Buffalo might be interested in such a trade to rid themselves of the extra year—especially on a contract like Okposo’s that is virtually buyout-proof—but, as an up-and-coming team, they’d also be better off keeping the higher-quality veteran.
It’s unlikely either team would agree to this deal.
Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks
Three Years Remaining @ $7.25 million cap hit
Modified-NTC (10 teams), NMC
Ryan has consistently performed better than Eriksson over the last half-decade, and he’s also two years younger. He would certainly fit better on the roster than Eriksson currently does—but then again, Ryan is also paid significantly more than Eriksson. Retention would be necessary on Ottawa’s end.
The Senators would be interested in this trade for the simple fact that Eriksson is owed a lot less money over the next three years than Ryan is. At this point, owner Eugene Melnyk’s priorities are so self-apparent that we needn’t risk the libel charge for spelling them out here.
The trick in a deal like this would be convincing the Senators to retain enough of Ryan’s salary to even up the cap hits—and that’s about when Melnyk will lose interest.
Thinking Outside The Box
Harman Dayal caught some serious attention for his suggestion of a Loui Eriksson for Ryan Kesler trade, and it’s a transaction that might make a lot more sense than it does at first blush.
A lot of confusion on this so let me explain. You’re not bringing in Kesler to play — he’s on LTIR and I’d be shocked if he suits up for another game in his career. Point is if he’s on LTIR, he doesn’t count against the cap.https://t.co/rTKXJ2K5UR
— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) July 25, 2019
Ryan Kesler, Anaheim Ducks
Three Years Remaining @ $6.875 million cap hit
NMC (turns to 8 team NTC in 2021/22)
The proposal initially drew a lot of heat because Kesler is the rare combination of a player who is both worse than and paid more than Loui Eriksson—but any such move would obviously be pre-empted by Kesler going on permanent long-term injury reserve, making his cap hit a moot point.
Convincing the Ducks to go along with it would rely on another unknown factor altogether—how much of Kesler’s contract could be recouped from insurance with him on LTIR. His hip issue—which required a resurfacing surgery in May—could qualify as a pre-existing condition, and that might increase the amount of Kesler’s salary that actually has to come out of Anaheim’s pockets.
If the Ducks end up having to cover a large portion of Kesler’s salary themselves, they could possibly be convinced to make a swap for a player they can actually use for the next three years—though some sort of asset-based incentive from Vancouver would have to be a part of it.
Sportsnet 650’s Satiar Shah speculated about a scenario that sounds like a best-case scenario for Eriksson—and perhaps for the Canucks as well.
I’m still keeping an eye on the Stars as a potential destination for Loui Eriksson.
Could see something involving Cogliano who has 2 years at $3.25M per left and/or Comeau who also has 2 years remaining at $2.4M per
— Satiar Shah (@SatiarShah) July 14, 2019
Andrew Cogliano, Dallas Stars
Two Years Remaining @ $3.25 million cap hit
Modified-NTC (6 teams)
Blake Comeau, Dallas Stars
Two Years Remaining @ $2.4 million cap hit
No Trade Protection
Taken together, the contracts of Cogliano and Comeau add up to one less year and fewer dollars against the cap than Eriksson’s. Even better, they would be a lot easier to move separately than Eriksson currently is as an individual.
There are countless teams around the league—including the Canucks, in all honesty—that could benefit from making room on their roster for the sturdy and speedy Cogliano.
Comeau, meanwhile, is cheap enough to bury for a season if need be—and relatively painless to buy out thereafter.
The Stars might—but probably don’t—have a slight interest in bringing back Eriksson, who enjoyed his best years in Dallas. Eriksson appears very interested in a return to the Lone Star State, with his family reportedly having already moved back to the area.
My understanding is Loui Eriksson's family is moving out of Vancouver and back to Dallas, further indication that Eriksson doesn't anticipate playing for the #Canucks next season and expects a trade.
— Matthew Sekeres (@mattsekeres) June 20, 2019
With all that being said, this trade would have to involve a serious addition from the Canucks—either through retention on Eriksson or a major asset or both.
Best-case scenarios rarely come cheap.