July 1st, 2016 is a day that a handful of NHL teams would like to forget. As the free agent market opened, mistakes were made, as they usually are, but this year in particular took a heavy toll. David Backes, Loui Eriksson, Andrew Ladd, Milan Lucic, Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo: six contracts, each with a term of five or more years, totaling $220MM. The contracts all looked bad right away and now three years later, all six players have been massive disappointments. None of those six teams – the Bruins, Canucks, Islanders, Oilers, Red Wings, and Sabres – have been able to shed those cumbersome contracts to this point either. As with most bad pacts, the teams must either give away something of value or take on a similarly poor contract to move the player. Entering a new off-season, patience is running out on most, if not all, of these players and it seems that long-awaited moves could be on the horizon.
But what if two of these teams simply decided to swap a 2016 mistake? It wouldn’t do much to help with cap compliance, but it would at least allow for the players to get a fresh start and perhaps play at a level closer to what was expected when their contracts were signed. Over the past few days, two players on this unfortunate list have hinted that they may want to leave as much as their teams would like to be rid of them. There seems to be a fit to make a deal as well. As a result, rumors have emerged that Loui Eriksson and Milan Lucic could be traded for one another.
Eriksson, coming off his worst season since he was a rookie in 2006-07, told a Swedish newspaper that he and head coach Travis Green “do not get on 100%”. As translated by The Province’s Patrick Johnston, Eriksson goes on to say that there is a lack of trust from Green, as reflected my a major drop-off in ice time, as well as a lack of opportunity when he is on the ice, as Eriksson feels he has been pigeon-holed into a defensive role. Still a capable two-way winger, Eriksson believes in his ability and promises to “keep fighting”, but is clearly frustrated in Vancouver.
Meanwhile, Lucic stopped just short of saying he would rather be playing for the Canucks right now during an appearance on Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver. When asked if he would welcome a move to his hometown, Lucic’s answer was pretty transparent:
That’s definitely something I wouldn’t rule out. It’s obviously something that potentially could happen. Like you said, things haven’t gone that well for me here with the Oilers. Especially the last year and a half. So a new GM, new coach, which haven’t even been named yet, coming in. You don’t even know what their plan is moving forward, and stuff like that. Like I said, it’s definitely something that could potentially happen… I think the Canucks right now are a very exciting team. I love what (Vancouver GM Jim Benning) has done as far as building the team within through the draft and developing players. He’s done a great job of that. I think Travis has done a really good job as well from a coaching stand point. Like I said, it’s an exciting team and it’s a growing team and you never know what the future has in store for you.
So, Lucic would seemingly like to be in Vancouver and Eriksson would seemingly like to be anywhere else. Benning has never been afraid to shake things up in Vancouver, while the Oilers are close to hiring a new GM, who will almost certainly want to shake things up. This deal, while only a convenient rumor, could happen. But is a one-for-one trade a fair swap? From a production and salary cap standpoint, it’s pretty close between these former Boston Bruins teammates.
Both Eriksson and Lucic carry a $6MM cap hit on their current contracts, but Lucic is signed for four more years versus only three for Eriksson. This is not inconsequential, as another year hurts even more on a bad contract as it additionally impacts potential buyout calculations. Lucic additionally has greater trade protection built into his deal, a problem if he continues to play poorly. The bulk of Eriksson’s actual salary has also largely been paid out in signing bonuses over the past few years, making him more affordable from a payroll standpoint. So while Lucic and Eriksson are even in terms of yearly cap calculations, Eriksson’s contract is friendlier. It is worth considering though that Eriksson, 33, has more tread on his tires than Lucic, 30, and could be less effective in year three than Lucic is in year four.
Lucic has the slight edge in terms of performance, as he has been the least bad of the pair. To his credit, Lucic has been extremely durable during his time in Edmonton, missing only three games over three seasons. In 243 games, the power forward has 104 points, including 39 goals. While his offensive numbers pale in comparison to his early years of production, he has maintained his physical style of play, logging 715 hits. In comparison, Eriksson has struggled to stay healthy with Vancouver. Formerly a tough, two-way winger, Eriksson has missed 50 games in his Canucks tenure and his injury history shows in his play style, which has become far less tenacious. Nevertheless, Eriksson has accumulated 76 points in 196 games, including at least 10 goals each season. It’s not much, but it’s a clip that would put Eriksson only ten points behind Lucic if he had played the same number of games. It’s worth noting that the overall picture looks poor for Eriksson, but he still shows flashes of offensive ability from time to time that Lucic does not.
Needless to say, neither Lucic nor Eriksson are players that any team would be excited to add at this point in time. But if the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks were to make this trade straight-up, would it be a fair deal? The Canucks land a hometown product who is younger and has been slightly more productive and far more durable over the past few years, while the Oilers get back a player that costs less, both in reality and against the cap, in the long-term and has a more versatile game and could have more upside. What do you think?