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On the eve of free agency, the Red Wings have come to terms with Jonathan Ericsson, meaning they will return five of their top 7 defensemen from last season. Ruslan Salei will not be offered a contract, and Brian Rafalski has opted out of the last year of his 5 year, $30M contract for retirement. Ericsson was taken by the Wings at 291st overall, the last pick in the 2002 draft. Ericsson’s will be under contract with the Wings for three seasons, at a cap hit of $3.25M.Ericsson has been a focal point for Red Wings fans ever since bursting onto the scene in the 2009 playoffs, helping the Red Wings make it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They would lose that game 2-1, with Ericsson registering the Wings only goal of the game.
Ericsson had played 8 games the season before with the Wings, but his 22 playoff games were a coming out party of sorts. He was a force to be reckoned with, regularly taking on the other teams biggest and strongest forwards and shutting them down like a player with far more experience. He was especially good against the Anaheim Ducks and their young stars Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. He also contributed 4 goals and 8 points in that playoff run.
Much was expected out of Ericsson going into the 2009-2010 season, what would prove to be his first as a full-time NHLer.
To say he didn’t live up to the expectations would be a massive understatement.
Ericsson played 62 games in 2009-10, managing only 4 goals and 13 points, while posting a dismal -15 rating. Even worse, the strong, assertive player the Wings saw during the 2009 playoffs had disappeared and been replaced with a erratic, mistake-prone player who looked all of his rookie status and then some.
He missed some time with knee injuries that year, a problem that has hampered him on and off since.
Last season was a bit of a bounce back year for Ericsson, as he regained some of his assertiveness offensively, especially towards the end of the season.
He only had 3 goals among 15 points in 72 games played, but saw his role increase with the team as he played more minutes than ever before. He averaged nearly 19 minutes of ice time per game this year, and showed some of the toughness we saw in 2009 by leading the team in fighting majors with 3.
He was the second best defenseman on the team in terms of plus/minus this year at +8, trailing only regular defensive partner Brian Rafalski, who was +11. Overall, he had the 5th best +/- on the team, trailing only Justin Abdelkader (+15), Rafalski, Pavel Datsyuk (+11), and Darren Helm (+9).
The thing that kept Ericsson’s season from being a rousing success was the fact that he still was plagued at times by awful decisions with the puck, leading to turnovers and goals against.
For as good as he played on many nights, he would make a glaring mistake that would overshadow a week’s worth of solid play.
If Ericsson is to ever find a consistent level of success at the NHL, he needs to simplify his game.
He can’t be caught pinching, or trying to do too much offensively. His strengths will lie in trying to emulate the game of the captain, Nick Lidstrom.
Make the safe, simple play; it’s usually the best one.
I’m not worried that much about the cap hit – although it is a little higher than I feel a player of his current abilities deserves – because the Wings still have a ton of cap space, and in the coming years will have even more with the eventual retirement of Lidstrom and others.
This signing was one that was made even more necessary by the fact that the biggest name free agent defensemen – the Bieksas, Ehrhoffs, Markovs, etc. – have all found suitors already. The Wings didn’t want to be forced to find two or three top 6 defensemen in an admittedly weak free agent class.
For a player that seems to struggle with his confidence from time to time, especially when the giveaways pile up (he was third on the team in giveaways in 2010-2011), this contract extension by the Wings proves they believe in him.
Hopefully Ericsson is able to reward their confidence in him, by displaying some confidence in himself.