The wheels are beginning to turn for the Boston Bruins as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches.
Loui Eriksson has been the main topic of conversation in recent weeks -- and most of the year, actually -- because he’s enjoying a monster season and his contract is about to expire. Eriksson is second on the Bruins with 39 points and is on pace for 26 goals and 68 points . . . which would be his best year in Boston.
It's also his contract year. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
But there’s no denying Eriksson is trusted by coach Claude Julien and the Bruins in every conceivable situation. During his time here he's made centers better, whether it was Carl Soderberg over the previous couple of years on the third line or Ryan Spooner over the last month.
Eriksson's been a key net-front presence on the Bruins’ dominant power play and a valued penalty killer on a unit that’s been climbing up the charts all season after a slow start. There's a lot to like about his game.
But, seeing as he'll be one of the NHL's premier free agents when the market opens July 1, that's a double-edged sword. Especially since it's never felt like he's has any allegiance to Boston and won't be inclined to give the B's a hometown discount. Not only that, but his agent -- J.P. Barry -- has a history of getting maximum compensation, both in terms of money and years, for his clients in free agency.
In fact, in his short time as Bruins general manager, Don Sweeney opted to trade two other Barry clients -- Soderberg and Dougie Hamilton -- rather than fork over top dollar.
There’s every reason to believe that scenario's going to play out again with Eriksson prior to the deadline, given that he’s seeking the same five- to six-year deal at $6 million annually that he’ll easily get on the free market. The Bruins are very hesitant to make that kind of money and time commitment to a 30-year-old with a concussion history who's slowed in the skating department.
Sweeney has said the Bruins will do everything they can to sign Eriksson to a deal that makes sense for the team, but has already shown he won’t hesitate pulling the trigger on a trade if a workable contract can't be agreed upon.
“We’ve been in discussions with Loui, and the first priority will be to try to get him signed,” Sweeney said on the NESN pregame show Thursday night prior to the loss to the Vancouver Canucks. “Obviously he’s a player entering (unrestricted free agency) and he’s trying to gauge what (his value) may be, and we’re trying to do the same. He’s been an important player for us.
“He’s having a very good [contract] year, and he helps us each and every night. He’s a valuable player to us, and we’d like to be able to find a deal. If that doesn’t take shape here in the next little while, I obviously have to do due diligence and explore whether or we can continue to improve our team [in a trade], and keep looking forward. That’s the job that I continue to have.”
The Bruins have already started that due diligence. According to a source, executive director of player personnel John Ferguson Jr. was at the Sharks-Wild game last Saturday. Minnesota's Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Matthew Dumba all fit the profile of the type of young, improving defensemen the Bruins are seeking in trade, and the Wild need to add a talented offensive winger like Eriksson as they battle for a playoff spot in the West.
Brodin ($4.167 million cap hit) and Scandella ($4 million) are both signed at least through 2019-20 to reasonable contracts. Dumba, on pace for 9 goals and 19 points, is a 21-year-old restricted free agent looking at a raise as a talented third-pairing defenseman on the Wild.
Anaheim assistant GM Dave Baseggio was in town for the Bruins-Blue Jackets game on Saturday night, and the Ducks are still looking to wheel and deal after sending Carl Hagelin to the Penguins. There’s been plenty of speculation about Cam Fowler being on the move as a left-shot defenseman, but Sami Vatanen is a player who would make more sense given the Bruins' needs on the right side. The 24-year-old will be a restricted free agent after this season, and is on pace for 11 goals and 39 points this season. Vatanen isn't the biggest guy in the world at 5-foot-10, 183 pounds, but he fits the profile of exactly what the Bruins are looking to add to a D-man corps in need of some reinforcements.
Ferguson scouted the Predators and Jets over the last couple of weeks, as well, and the sense is the Bruins are much more interested in big, right-handed Jacob Trouba than Dustin Byfuglien, as they should be.
Normally, a rental like Eriksson would fetch a first-round pick and a prospect from a contender. But the B's need to do something bigger than that, and that's what Sweeney's shooting for.
Could a package of Eriksson, a first-round pick and goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban sweeten the pot enough for Minnesota to surrender the defense help the Bruins need? Would a package like that be enough for Anaheim or Winnipeg? And if the Ducks and Jets feel their goaltending depth is adequate enough, would they accept another prospect in Subban's place?
The sense here, as it’s been all season, is that the Bruins are going to deal Eriksson to the highest bidder. He’s been a good player over the last three years, but his biggest assist of the season might just be what Sweeney and the B’s land for him at the deadline.