When it comes to the Red Wings roster there are not many players more disliked than Jonathan Ericsson. Fair or not, he brings the ire of Wings fans and many would like to see him on the first flight out of Motown, but is that even an option?
One of the biggest complaints about Ericsson is his contract. It’s an easy complaint to have considering Ericsson cashes in at $4.25M a season. That is Big money for Big E, considering his average play. While Wings GM Ken Holland deserves his share of the blame, many fans forget that this contract was made under previous salary cap rules. At the time, it was a good contract as it kept a then promising young blueliner off the market when the Wings were desperate for defensemen, spread the cap hit and the contract could be amended or dumped completely if the team wanted. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman however did not appreciate teams trying to get around his coveted cap, and did not want to make the most recent lock-out season for naught. So, a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached. Under the new CBA, teams could not find such ways around the cap, and even previous contracts were subject to the new rules. Now these smart contracts are bad contracts, and there was not much teams could do about them, only being allowed a single, onetime accelerated buyout.
With the new CBA in place, Ericsson gets his money, traded or not, or playing or not. So, what do the Wings get for $4.25M? According to many, not much. Yet, Ericsson does have experience, size and mobility. He brings physicality with a team leading 63PIM, and has a decent shot. Still he has disappointed in recent years and many fans have been calling for him to be cut or traded. Thanks to the new CBA, cutting Ericsson is of minimal benefit, as he gets his money and the team gets the cap hit either way. A trade is difficult as well, as his contract has a no trade clause that does not expire until next season, and even then, turns into a modified no-trade that has a 19 team exemption list. Even a buyout would leave $1.6M on the books this season and just under $1.4M each year until 2023. Considering these factors, it seems Wings fans should get used to seeing Ericsson in a Red Wings uniform. Either he finishes out his contract in 2020, or the Wings trade him to an approved team. Even if the Red Wings can find a trade partner, the Wings might have to carry some of Ericsson’s salary.
Keeping the big defenseman might not be that bad after all, though. Ericsson has shown in the past he can be quite effective on a 3rd pairing. There his skill level tends to over match the opposing teams 4th liners and his physicality tends to be a good match up against the gritty players that usually slot in those lines. He would be overpaid to be sure, but if his game picks up on a 3rd pairing, it would sting less. Not to mention his size and physicality have won him over with management and coaches. Still, it isn’t a settled argument. Xavier Ouellet has been knocking on that 3rd pair door, and has shown flashes of skill in past call ups. It is doubtful Ouellet would clear waivers if he was sent to Grand Rapids, so the Wings will most likely keep him with the big club. However, it is also doubtful the team would want Ouellet to stagnate in the seats as a scratch. Injuries do happen, so chances are both will see the ice during the season, and Ericsson has earned the right to lose the spot rather than having earn it. That said it should be an interesting position battle to see who bumps who by mid-season. There is the possibility that Ericsson might get to collect $4.25M while sitting in the new arenas box seats, though a 3rd pair slotting might revive the big defensman’s career.