Want to her something insane? Last year was actually one of the best years Jonathan Ericsson has ever had in the NHL. Really, that’s a true statement after quickly perusing his stat lines. This is a guy who takes a lot of heat from the Wings fanbase and maybe that’s warranted but maybe it’s actually overblown. Is this just a really serviceable bottom-pairing defenceman suffering from misuse by his coaching staffs over the years? Or is this a player costing his team games? Let’s take a deeper look into Detroit’s perennial scapegoat.
Hailing from Karlskrona, Sweden, this 6’4″ monsoon was the final selection in the 2002 NHL Entry draft. Some would call that a near miss, others would say the team is lucky to have a 9th round selection play any NHL games at all. Your call. The 32-year-old will be entering his 8th full season with the Wings finding himself likely in that same middle pairing position he’s spent most of his career in.
Much of the critique of Ericsson has been his contract. He currently skates for $4.25M a season until 2020 which will take him to age 36, a contract he inked in 2014 that left a few people in awe. Likely not a contract that will ever be trade-able or one that would interest expansion teams, the Wings fanbase has at least come to terms with the fact he’s here to stay a while.
LAST YEAR’S STATS
Like I said off the top, a quick glance at his stat lines and you would notice he actually matched a career-high 15 points (3-12) last season. Even crazier is the fact he did it in less games than ever before. His last two seasons have both been career bests. Now, when 15 points is a career high after 8 years in the NHL well, you know. But he’s not there to score right? So what about his fancy stats?
Ericsson finds himself on the wrong side of possession on a team that’s pretty good at possessing the puck. His 49% Corsi for at 5v5 is more along the lines of how his naysayers see him though. To be fair, he was on par with Kronwall and actually better than DeKeyser in that category and DDK just signed a large extension. This speaks more to quality of competition though as DDK saw much tougher utilization and matchups.
Ericsson was bad though when it came to suppressing shots, putting up the worst numbers of any defenceman on the roster. Him and Kronwall were also a terrible pairing when it came to the expected goals for category at around 47% meaning they’re going out there and getting scored on far more often than they are generating goals. The team is even worse at about 45% scoring-chances-for when those guys are out there. Not only are they getting scored on regularly but they’re giving up chances left and right. Coaches of opposing teams just salivate at the thought of getting to play their scoring second line against such a paring. Hmm, maybe this is why Tyler Johnson has been so successful against the Wings…
Not to throw salt in the wounds but this was with Ericsson getting some puck luck, posting a 101.69 PDO. When that stat falls back down to 100 that could spell even more trouble. Ericsson also was the team leader in giveaways at 61 and posted a team worst -47 giveaway/takeaway differential. That differential was more than double the second worst differential posted by any Red Wing last season. That differential was also good for 14th worst in the entire NHL even though he was the only player in the top-15 not regularly playing top pairing minutes and competition. This here is a big time key to understanding the distaste for Ericsson in the Red Wings fan base. This is both a tangible stat on paper and makes viewers blood boil when they see it in game.
All you can ask for from a 4th defenceman is to be a calm and collected workhorse that effectively gets the puck out of their own zone and can maybe eat some PK minutes successfully. Jonathan Ericsson just isn’t able to handle such a workload in Detroit with his current deployment. He’s not super sheltered, he’s pretty close to even when it comes to zone starts but actually tilted a little more towards starting in his own end often. He doesn’t get the toughest of competition either, that’s mainly left to DeKeyser and his partner but reducing Ericsson’s role further could potentially see some aspects of his game improve.
Seeing his name along Vlasic, Brodin and Klingberg hurts but that dagger gets a little turn when you see that Hjalmarsson actually signed in the same year for less money and less term. The contract is simply not good, everyone knows that. Detroit themselves have enough defenceman in their system now that could fill this spot for much less money and post similar or better numbers. Getting 15 points out of a defenceman isn’t even all that difficult out of the waiver wire when given the minutes Ericsson gets and the money really hurts a cap strapped team like Detroit.
THIS YEAR’S PROJECTION
As was said earlier, Ericsson has been stuck in a spot where he was thrown good money and great minutes without proving he was worthy of either. The staff and management team is then left keeping him in there because any decree otherwise looks bad on them and their vision when it came to this player. Ericsson has hurt this team at times but if we’re going to recognize misuse as the defining characteristic of down seasons for Tatar and Nyquist, then we must also recognize that street goes both ways.
Ideally this season, a lot of Ericsson’s minutes should be distributed elsewhere. Swapping the Kronwall-Ericsson pairing into a sheltered, bottom-pairing position could greatly benefit this team. Marchenko has spent all summer being effective with more ice time in international play and the Wings have one season to decide if keeping Brendan Smith is a priority at the end of next year. Giving those kids the ice time previously allotted to Ericsson-Kronwall could greatly benefit not only each individual, but the team as a whole.
It will be interesting to see with the backlog of waiver-exempt defenceman like Ouellet, Sproul and Jensen whether the coaching staff is willing to put $4.25M in the viewing box some nights this year should Ericsson’s play dictate it. It’s time to quit complaining about Ericsson and figure out how the team can utilize him effectively this season, whatever that may mean.