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Bruins face tough decision on Eriksson

Boston would like to re-sign pending free agent, but cost, term remain concerns

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

They have slipped away, one by one.

Right wing Matt Fraser was first, lost by the Boston Bruins when he was put on waivers and claimed by the Edmonton Oilers about 18 months ago. Right wing Reilly Smith came next, traded to the Florida Panthers along with the contract of center Marc Savard in exchange for right wing Jimmy Hayes last July.

Now, right wing Loui Eriksson could be the next to depart.

Though the Bruins have been staunch in their desire to keep Eriksson, the two sides have yet to agree to a new contract despite negotiations that lasted throughout the season. If he departs in free agency, which starts Friday, the Bruins won't just have lost their second-leading scorer from this season, they'll also have one player remaining from the seven-player Tyler Seguin trade three years ago.

On July 4, 2013, the Bruins sent Seguin, forward Rich Peverley and defenseman Ryan Button to the Dallas Stars for Eriksson and prospects Fraser, Smith and defenseman Joe Morrow.

Seguin is the only one who still plays for the Stars. If the Bruins lose Eriksson as an unrestricted free agent, Morrow, who the Bruins tendered a qualifying offer Monday, would be the sole remaining piece with the Bruins.

Talks between the Bruins and Eriksson's agent, J.P. Barry, have been ongoing, with Boston general manager Don Sweeney saying before the 2016 NHL Draft that he was planning on checking in again with Barry to "take one more stab at it, to see if he thinks the internal landscape is as green as what we think it is, as opposed to what the outside may look like."

But then Saturday came and the free agent interview period opened, and now other teams can start the courting process of Eriksson, who can become an unrestricted free agent Friday.

The Bruins opted not to trade Eriksson at the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline because they did not like the return being offered by interested teams. Plus, they wanted to try to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Bruins added forward Lee Stempniak and defenseman John-Michael Liles but finished three points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the final wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

Given that the Bruins are not exactly in position to contend for the Stanley Cup at the moment, signing Eriksson, 31 in July, for at least four or five years with an average annual value of around $6 million might not be the right move. But there also is the fact that Boston's core is aging (Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are 30; Zdeno Chara is 39), and competing in the near future is the best bet to take advantage of those players.

As Sweeney said to reporters at the draft, when asked if the Bruins need to win now, "My job is to build the best hockey team that I can possibly build for this year and going forward and have an opportunity to win each and every year.

"We have to be committed to the overall process and have some patience to allow some of our players to emerge. We have players that are within a window that want to win and I love that about our players and you want more of that. So we have to be very cognizant if we have the opportunity to improve our team and be that, as I described, that competitive team that's going to be in the playoff race and win. That's the only goal we have. That's it.

"But I'm not going to leverage to the point where you're just chasing it all the time."

There also is the problem of replacing Eriksson, who can play left and right wing and who had 30 goals and 33 assists this season. The Bruins do not have a player who can step in and produce like that at the moment.

But more than the issue of money and term and who might replace Eriksson, there is the mental drain of seeing the biggest piece of the deal for Seguin, who likely will be among the top scorers in the NHL for seasons to come, leave for nothing.

Although Eriksson started slowly with the Bruins, in part because of two concussions in a five-week period in his first season with them, he gradually became the smart, two-way player that Peter Chiarelli, the general manager at the time, believed he was getting for Seguin.

Seguin, of course, has blossomed in Dallas, with the fourth-most points in the League during the past three seasons (234), behind the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (273), Dallas teammate Jamie Benn (255), and the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane (239).

He is the kind of scorer every team seeks and the Bruins do not have.

That won't change whether the Bruins sign Eriksson or not, with the latter seeming more likely at this point. That part is done. The trade was made and now the Bruins could be left with little.

As Sweeney said, "We'd like to find a fit [with Eriksson], but it may not happen."

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