Publically, Travis Green has always been supportive of Loui Eriksson. He has repeatedly defended Eriksson, pointing out the subtle details in his game that make him an effective player, to the point that Jason Botchford coined the nickname “Little Things” for Eriksson. Some of those “little things” were readily apparent — he was one of the best penalty killers in the league last season, for instance — but it was still hard to ignore his lack of offensive production.
That’s particularly true when you consider Eriksson’s contract, a six-year, $36 million albatross that made Eriksson the highest paid player on the Canucks last season. Green has said that he doesn’t care about a player’s contract. That’s for management to worry about; all he cares about is the player himself.
From what’s been said publically, then, it seems like Green and Eriksson are on the same page. At least, that’s how it seemed until Eriksson spoke to the Swedish media this week.
Eriksson is with the Swedish national team right now in preparation for the 2019 World Hockey Championships, along with his Canucks teammates, Jacob Markstrom and Elias Pettersson. HockeySverige caught up with him for an interview, where he opened up about his relationship with Green. Apparently, things aren’t quite as rosy as they’ve appeared.
“The coach and I don’t really get on 100 per cent,” said Eriksson in a translation acquired by Patrick Johnston of The Province. “It is difficult when I do not get the same trust that I received from all the other coaches I had during my career. Of course it is tough on that front.”
It’s an interesting statement, because Green has shown Eriksson a lot of trust, just not in the offensive situations he may have played in with previous teams. After a stint on Elias Pettersson’s wing to start the season, Eriksson was moved to a checking role. He played much of the season with either Jay Beagle or Bo Horvat and lined up against the opposition’s top lines on a regular basis.
That’s a different type of trust, of course, than what Eriksson was used to in Boston with the Bruins, where he played on the first power play unit and was relied upon to bang in rebounds and finish off passing plays.
“I haven't found any role in the team,” said Eriksson via Google Translate. “Last two seasons I have played less and in a defensive role. I also cannot make the same points as before if I do not play so much in the roles I had before. In this way, it is not really possible to compare, but I must do my best and fight on.”
Here’s the thing: Eriksson still got a lot of ice time and offensive opportunities last season. His most common linemate was Horvat, who was second on the Canucks in scoring despite some heavy defensive usage. He started the season with Pettersson, the Canucks’ leading scorer. He got regular ice time on the Canucks’ second power play unit.
The problem was, he didn’t do much of anything with those opportunities. While Eriksson worked as a complementary player with Pettersson, he didn’t score a single goal with him and had just four assists in 131 5-on-5 minutes on his line.
With Horvat, Eriksson scored one goal at 5-on-5 and nine assists in over 350 minutes. He scored just one power play goal all season. It would have been hard for Green to justify putting him in even more offensive situations when he didn’t produce in the ones he was given.
There have been hints of a rockier relationship between Green and Eriksson behind the scenes. There were rumours of a blow up at one particular practice last season and, at the end-of-year media availability, Jim Benning said that Eriksson has been “disappointing,” because “When we signed him, we expected him to be a consistent 20-goal scorer.”
So, the question remains: what per cent do Eriksson and Green "get on?" Is it 90%, where it's really not an issue? 50%, where both parties can grin and bear it for the next three years? 25%, with the two of them on the verge of coming to blows at any moment?
At this point, the Canucks have few options. Buying out Eriksson’s contract would provide next to no cap relief. Trading Eriksson is likely a non-starter, as no team would want to take on his contract without either sending back an equally bad contract or demanding prospects and picks. They could send him down to the AHL, but what would that accomplish? The majority of his cap hit would still be on the books and then you’re taking away a spot from a younger player in Utica.
The truth is, despite Eriksson’s complaints about his role, it’s one in which he is effective. He can be a good checking-line winger and penalty killer, even if his contract would make him the most expensive fourth-line forward in the league, tied with Milan Lucic. While three more years of Eriksson is tough to swallow, it might be the only option.