As we near the end of a fourth consecutive Vancouver Canucks season that will end without a playoff appearance, the calls to fire general manager Jim Benning have become increasingly loud.
And that makes sense. Since being hired in 2014, Benning has either been unwilling or unable to commit to a badly needed rebuild until recently. And while the Canucks have done well at the draft, his trades and free agent signings have inspired little confidence.
Indeed, if there’s one name that defines Benning’s tenure more than other, it might be Loui Eriksson.
Signed in 2016 to a six-year, $36-million contract after scoring 30 goals with the Boston Bruins, Eriksson has, shall we say, underwhelmed.
The more damning part for Benning was that, if you looked closely at Eriksson’s performance—not to mention where the Canucks were as a team—it was pretty obvious the deal was not a great idea for Vancouver.
Two-and-a-half seasons later and this is all the more obvious. Eriksson did hit 30 goals this season as a Canuck—if you count his entire tenure with the team.
He’s settled into being a somewhat effective fourth-line forward and penalty killer at the NHL level, and it’s something that has obviously ticked off Benning and coach Travis Green. But they would never admit that, at least not publicly.
Until this week.
Earlier in the week, Benning had mentioned how the team “would look at” their options with Eriksson. It was intriguing, and though a buyout still wouldn’t save the team much cap space, it would free up a roster spot. There’s also the thought that, since the actual money owed to him becomes less through the last three years of his deal, that he could be moved to another squad.
He has a full no-trade clause for another year, but if the Canucks threatened to move him down to Utica, there’s always the chance he would waive it.
And coach Travis Green making Eriksson a healthy scratch for Wednesday’s game against the New York Rangers only added fuel to the fire.
It was the first time in his Canucks career that Eriksson has been made a healthy scratch. And it represented the team publicly admitting that having him on the roster is something of a problem. NHL clubs simply cannot pay players $6 million to sit in the press box. If that’s happening, it represents a major misuse of assets.
Is this it for Eriksson as a Canuck?
It’s hard to say. The contract is untenable, but would they really buy him out just to get off the roster? Will they actually be able to trade him? Would they shuffle him down to the minors?
Our answer would be “probably not” to all of the questions. But it’s clear the team is fed up with what Eriksson is giving them. With the healthy scratch, they’ve made it clear they don’t care about keeping his reputation intact. He’s not the player they thought they were getting from Boston. He’s a replaceable fourth liner. And he’s being treated like one.
Earlier this year, the Canucks got one of the major mistakes of the Benning era in Erik Gudbranson off the roster. Whether they can do the same with Eriksson remains to be seen, but it sure seems like they’re going to try.
At least they can say the veteran is “good with the kids” and kind of not be lying about it because Elias Pettersson had Christmas at his house. But man, what a low bar.
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