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Big E signs Big Deal

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROIT – How does someone celebrate a new three-year contact?

Well, in the case of Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, you attend a pair of head-banging heavy metal concerts in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“I’ve been in the car all day with a few friends, driving to Gothenburg,” said Ericsson, who signed his new deal worth $9.75 million Friday morning. “We’re going to see Iron Maiden and Metallica this weekend. I’m pretty excited about that too.”

With the signing of Ericsson, the Wings can now breathe a little easier at the start of the NHL’s annual free agency frenzy, knowing that they have five defensemen under contract, along side of captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and Jakub Kindl.

However, the Wings still need to find a replacement for Brain Rafalski, who announced his retirement last month, and they do have options other than free agency. Prospect Brendan Smith will be given every opportunity to make the Wings’ squad at training camp in September, and the club also has some insurance in the minors with veteran Doug Janik in Grand Rapids. Though in an ideal world, the Wings would prefer to have Janik available in case of emergencies.

But Ericsson is delighted to stay in Detroit, which he says was always his first option.

“It feels a little bit unreal, and all of that,” said Ericsson, 27. “I’m very excited to be able to stay in Detroit. I absolutely didn’t want to leave. I love everything about the organization and how everyone’s been treated. I love everything about the guys, the team, the fans. I’m glad that everything worked out.”

Last season, Ericsson played in a career-high 74 games for the Wings, finishing with a career-best 15 points – three goals and 12 assists – and leading the team with 87 penalty minutes. He also tied for the team-lead with three fighting majors.

Ericsson has played in 163 career games, compiling nine goals and 24 assists and 150 penalty minutes. In 45 Stanley Cup playoff games, he has 13 points.

Jonathan Ericsson has made significant strides with us over the last three years,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said in a released statement. “We believe in his abilities, we like the physical dimension that he brings to our team and we look for his continued progression as a player over the next few seasons as he enters into the prime of his career.”

Besides Ericsson, the Wings also agreed to terms on a three-year deal Friday with forward Patrick Eaves. The Wings now have 19 players under contract at $52.5 million in salary for the 2011-12 season, leaving them with approximately $11.7 million left under the cap.

And while Ericcson knows that his hefty pay raise comes with greater expectations from coach Mike Babcock and the Wings’ brass, the defenseman is ready.

“I think everyone has pressure, of course,” Ericsson said. “But I’ll have more pressure on me now. It’s more of a challenging thing for me. It’s just going to fun to try to improve and play a bigger role.”

The last player taken in the 2002 NHL amateur draft, Ericsson immediately turned heads with an outstanding playoff run 2009. That spring, he played in 22 of 23 postseason games – only missing one game against Chicago in the Western Conference finals when he had emergency appendectomy surgery. But at 6-foot-4 and 220-pounds, some expected that Ericsson’s advancement would continue to climb, yet he fully expects that his ascension to becoming a premier NHL defenseman is still on the rise.

“When Rafalski (retired) there was more opportunity that opened up for me to try and take advantage of,” Ericsson said. “It felt better for me, especially when they believe in me. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m up for it.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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