Loui Eriksson has been a lightning rod for criticism from Canucks fans, which has only been magnified by comments Eriksson made in Sweden this off-season.
Speaking with HockeySverige, Eriksson said, “The coach and I don’t really get on 100 per cent. 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.”
He also said, “I haven’t had so much ice time...I haven't found any role in the team. 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.”
For Canucks fans already frustrated with Eriksson’s lack of production commensurate with his $6 million cap hit, Eriksson’s comments were a bridge too far. Considering he had just 11 goals and 29 points last season, it seems a bit rich for Eriksson to complain about ice time and role.
That’s particularly true when you consider Eriksson got a fantastic opportunity last season, starting the year on Elias Pettersson’s line. Even if he didn’t last on Pettersson’s wing, his most common linemate for the season was Bo Horvat. He regularly played on the second power play unit, despite tallying just four power play points all season.
Canucks head coach Travis Green certainly seemed to be surprised by the comments — not that Eriksson felt that way, but that he made those comments to the media.
“I was surprised that it came out publicly,” said Green to Sportsnet’s Iain Macintyre, “but I’m not surprised that he isn’t happy about certain things. Players are proud — they want to play well and want to have individual success. I understand Loui hasn’t scored as much as he wanted to and maybe played at times as much as he wanted to. I understand that and we’ve discussed that.”
Now Eriksson’s agent, Peter Werner, suggests that Eriksson’s comments have been blown completely out of proportion. In an interview with HockeySverige, Werner went to bat for his client, claiming that the media in Vancouver have made a mountain out of a molehill.
“It feels like a very, very small story has got strange proportions in my world,” said Werner (with help from online translators and a Swedish-to-English dictionary). “From my side everything feels a little strange. I have known Loui since he was 14 years old and in my world he is the world's finest guy.”
Accusations from Canucks fans that Eriksson doesn’t give an honest effort seem to have particularly rankled Werner, as he was quick to emphasize that Eriksson, “works hard, trains hard, and he loves hockey, above all.”
That, at least, seems very accurate. Eriksson is a fitness nut and works hard to stay in excellent shape, which is particularly a necessity as professional athletes enter their mid-thirties.
As for the comments Eriksson made at the World Championships, in Werner’s eyes, they were just an emotionless assessment of the situation, not a complaint.
“That's what is so crazy,” said Werner. “Loui in no way meant to bump into anyone and get some carousel going. I can only calmly state that what Loui was trying to say was that we went into this with the hope that it would be six fantastic years with Vancouver. Then, like all the hockey world, Loui noted that Travis has not valued his hockey in a similar way as it has been valued before. But it is completely without any judgmental tone. It's just a cold assessment.”
Perhaps something was lost in translation. Those that cover the Canucks are well aware that Eriksson doesn’t say anything particularly controversial in interviews. While some players are known for being a “good quote,” Eriksson is generally known for the opposite. That’s nothing against him, mind you; some players are just more comfortable speaking with the media and provide better, more usable quotes.
That’s one of the reasons why Eriksson’s comments stuck out: they seemed so out of character. Werner had something to say about Eriksson’s character as well.
“I do not in any way recognize Loui in the way he was reported and in the way he is talked about,” said Werner. “I think that is unfortunate. He is a father-of-four, who is a wonderful person. Not a single player can maintain as high a level as he does if you are not extremely professional. I think that nuance has been somewhat missed in the discussion that is going on about him in the media.”
Most importantly, Werner wanted to be clear that complaining is not in Eriksson’s nature.
“Loui has never complained about anything in all the years I've known him,” he said. “He is not a complaining person. He has just coldly stated that he would like to help his team get better. It has not gone as we wished and it is also not something we prevaricate about… He wants to help the team get better. But never moaned. Never.”
Perhaps this is much ado about nothing and will be quickly cleared up as soon as Eriksson is back in town for training camp. Hopefully that’s the case, as the Canucks options are limited.
While the recent trade of James Neal and Milan Lucic suggested that there might be a creative solution available for moving him to another team, the most likely outcome of the Eriksson situation is that he continues to play for the Canucks. That’s not the worst thing, by any means.
As much as Eriksson hasn’t lived up to his contract, he still has a lot of value on the penalty kill and can play in a shutdown role as a bottom-six forward. While that may not be the role either he or the Canucks foresaw, it’s still a role in which he can help the team.
“Loui, I respect his career,” said Green. “I know he wants to probably play better than he has and have more success for himself. But I still have a job to do. And my job is to put the best team on the ice and play guys I see fit — and not just based on salaries.
“I want players who will do anything in their power to help the Vancouver Canucks win. That’s all they care about: being a Canuck and helping us win. With the additions of some forwards, we’ve got some tough decisions to make. And he’s no different than any other player coming into camp.”