Pro/No :: Jonathan Ericsson

Continuing on the series started over at The Production Line on Thursday, today we'll be looking at another Red Wings unrestricted free agent.  As before, we'll break down the contract situation, the pros and cons, and then put it up to you to vote pro or no.  We'll leave the poll open for 48 hours and then tabulate the results and put it all together nice-and-pretty-like at the end of the series.

Petrella did such a good job of laying out the Wings' cap/roster situation in the first post, that there wasn't any need to rewrite art; so I did the next best thing, I copied it:

With 11 forwards (including Jan Mursak, but excluding Cory Emmerton), the Wings have committed just under $31.5M on the front end. With Jimmy Howard and four defenders, there’s just under $16M committed to the rear. That’s a total of $47.5M of the projected $62M salary cap.

The Red Wings will have about $14M to play with — and that’s to fill the holes on the forward units, sign (or promote) another three defenseman, and find a backup goaltender. If Nicklas Lidstrom returns, he’ll command the lion’s share of that pool, so big name free agents like Brad Richards are absolutely out. However, the Wings have proven time and time again that they can work magic without much cap space, and we should all have faith that GM Ken Holland and braintrust will deliver another stellar roster by the time camp rolls around.

Keep reading for the info on our next big free agent consideration.

THE VITALS
Jonathan Ericsson, Defenseman, #52
27 Years Old (March 2, 1984)
6'4" 220 lbs
2 Full NHL Seasons (163 career regular season games played) - all with Detroit
From Karlskrona, Sweden

STATISTICS
Regular Season - 74 games played, 3 goals, 12 assists, 87 penalty minutes (3 fights), +8, 18:50 average time on ice.
Playoffs - 11 games played, 1 goal, 2 assists, 4 penalty minutes, -2, 18:47 average time on ice.

CONTRACT SITUATION
With the very last pick in the then-9-round entry draft of 2002, the Red Wings selected Jonathan Ericsson at #291.  As the story goes, Red Wings super-scout Håkan Andersson went to a game of his where the natural center was playing defense on an emergency basis because of injuries to his junior team.  Andersson was impressed with Ericsson's size and instincts and the Wings drafted him with the understanding that he would be groomed as a defenseman.  After playing out his entry-level contract in Grand Rapids, Ericsson signed a three-year, $2.7M deal that would average his cap hit to $900,000.  This, the last year of the deal, paid him $1,250,000. 

He will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

DEPTH SITUATION
Ericsson stumbled a bit out of the gate for the Red Wings, suffering from back spasms that took him out of the first period of the season opener against Anaheim and kept him out for the eight remaining October games.  From his return on November 3rd through the entirety of the Wings' playoff run, Ericsson didn't miss a game. 

According to Mike Babcock's actions in reference to who he played in the Wings' defensive corps, Ericsson was the #5 guy.  During some late-season coaching moves either dedicated to giving a rookie a shot at earning a starting spot in the playoffs or dedicated to motivating a veteran to focus better for the Wings' stretch run, Ericsson was left out of a late season rotation that saw Ruslan Salei and Jakub Kindl split time between the ice and the press box.

CASE FOR ERICSSON
1) His size is something you can't train into a guy.  This gives him an advantage bodying people off the puck and clearing the net-front.
2) He skates well, has a big slap shot, and good offensive instincts.
3) He's still young enough to develop his game more and work on doing the things he does well more consistently.

CASE AGAINST ERICSSON
1) Does not use his skillset/size consistently enough to his advantage.
2) Takes too many penalties; regularly caught chasing the puck in his own zone.
3) It's possible that he's reached the limit to how well and consistently he's ever going to play.

WHAT HE'S SAYING
Just last week, Ericsson told reporters that he would like to remain with the Red Wings, saying "I might make more money somewhere else, but I want to stay" along with "I really like it here" and "I like everything about this team, this organization."  However, this comes off the heels of news that Ericsson turned down a multi-year offer that would have paid him $2M per season.  Additional details about exact contract length/stipulations he turned down have not been made available. George Malik has confirmation from Ericsson's father, courtesy of the Swedish media that does confirm the two sides were not close to a contract agreement when the Wings made the first offer in February.

SALARY RANGE
Given Ericsson's age and the flashes of brilliance he's occasionally shown, and then compared around the league, Ericsson is very likely right in that he can expect to make more than the $1.25M he made last season.  Based on Chris Chelios' estimation of his potential worth, he's not likely to find himself in an Andreas Lilja situation like last year, where he's a player with a vast overestimation of his own worth who ends up being forced to take less than that on a last-minute deal.  I think he'll find a deal worth between $2.0M and $2.75M with the amount of the contract having a high negative correlation with the signing team's expectations to compete for a Stanley Cup.

POTENTIAL REPLACEMENTS
Internal :: Depending on a lot of variables, Jakub Kindl could find himself jumping from the #7 spot to the #5 spot.  Brendan Smith would be considered a long shot to make the roster out of camp, but he could pull it off. 
External :: UFA defensemen similar in age, size, and salary range around the league include Steve Eminger, Anton Babchuk, and Shane O'Brien,

WHAT DO YOU THINK
Please use the form below to give us your take on whether the Wings should try to get Ericsson back at a reasonable rate.  Then, sound off in the comments with your thoughts.  Is Ericsson still on the upswing of his career or has he peaked?  Should they go younger now or look for a more experienced guy?  Voting will stay open for 48 hours.  Thanks!

The poll has now closed.  Thanks to everybody for placing your votes.  Stay tuned on Thursday for the next installment over at The Production Line!
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