WILMINGTON (CBS) – After the NHL trade deadline passed Monday, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney danced around the subject of what would’ve convinced him to part with pending unrestricted free agent forward Loui Eriksson.
Then Cam Neely went on Felger & Mazz on Thursday and spelled out exactly what it would’ve taken to make Eriksson an ex-Bruin.
“We wanted someone that we felt could get into our lineup, help our lineup, whether it was a young player that we felt was going to get better, whether it was a player that we felt was at a good part of his career, still had years left,” Neely said. “Or we felt a pick that made sense for us.”
On the other side of the coin, both Neely and Sweeney said part of their decision to retain Eriksson’s services was to make the case for the player to re-sign with Boston. Talk about your mixed messages. Luckily for the Bruins, the mostly unaffected Eriksson didn’t take offense to the notion that the Bruins only kept him because they couldn’t find a sweet enough deal to trade him.
“I think it’s part of the game,” Eriksson said after practice at Ristuccia Arena. “That’s how the business works. I think every player is going to be in one of those situations. All I can do is play the game and try to be good.”
This season is all the proof everyone needs to know Eriksson knows how to ignore off-ice controversy and focus on his game. He’s third in goals (24) and fourth in points (49) in 65 games. In the second game since the deadline passed, Eriksson went to the net and scored a pivotal goal in the Bruins’ 4-2 triumph against Western Conference-leading Chicago on Thursday. After many failed attempts, the Bruins finally defeated one of the elite teams of the NHL on home ice.
Eriksson, who hadn’t scored in four games, was able to prove he’s turned the page on the trade deadline and all the hoopla leading up to it.
“I felt really good [Thursday] night. It was a big win for us too. It was a good test playing against Chicago. They’re a really, really good team and a playoff team so it was definitely nice to get the win. And hopefully we can keep building on that. We have another good test for us [Saturday against Washington].”
Eriksson’s going to keep on trucking, even as negotiations with the Bruins and his representatives continue. Although he won’t comment specifically on the matter, Eriksson has to know all the risk is on the Bruins’ side. Barring injury, Eriksson is going to be highly coveted coming off a highly productive season for an above-average team.
Neely’s statement to Felger & Mazz about the Bruins not being offered a first-round pick, or even two second-round picks, for Eriksson was surprising. It may even be true. Or the statement might’ve been more about trying to bring Eriksson’s price down. It might also be a way for Neely and the Bruins to cover their collective rears should Eriksson walk for nothing in the summer.
Because the idea that other teams’ in the Eastern Conference playoff race hanging on to their unrestricted free agents, as Neely and Sweeney stated, somehow exonerates the Bruins if down the road they misjudged this situation, is bogus. Going through the free-agent lists, teams with high-profile unrestricted free agents — Tampa Bay (Steven Stamkos), New York Rangers (Keith Yandle) — in the East are at or near the top of the conference and were buyers at the deadline. In fact the Rangers added another UFA (Eric Staal). The Bruins were in the unique situation of being in the middle of the conference standings with an elite free agent on the trading block. Never mind that the idea that the Bruins should be judged on what other teams did or didn’t do is preposterous, especially when GMs like Sweeney always claim that moves aren’t made to counter what other teams do. So non-moves also should not be comparable.
Instead of trading Eriksson, the Bruins kept him and added Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles. The maximum return on that decision could be winning one round of playoffs. It’ll be a disaster if the Bruins miss the playoffs and then Eriksson walks. But then, that’s the risk the Bruins decided to take and they should live with it instead of laying the groundwork for excuses.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.