At the beginning of the season, Loui Eriksson was arguably the most-hated Canuck on the roster. It wasn't entirely his fault. Like another "Lu" in Canucks history, his contract sucks.
In recent weeks, however, the much-maligned $6 million man is experiencing a new surge in popularity.
Let’s take a step back to December 23rd, 2019. The Christmas spirit was in the air at Rogers Arena. The Edmonton Oilers were in town, and the Canucks were sure to have their hands full as they tried to shut down Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
18,851 fans poured into the arena and full of anticipation to take in a game that featured two of the NHL’s best players -- even if both were on the visiting team.
Tyler Motte opened the scoring, but the Oilers quickly struck twice to take a one-goal lead heading into the third period. With the Canucks sitting just two points behind Edmonton in the standings, fans began to worry if this game was already out of reach for the home side, as the puck dropped for the final 20 minutes of play.
The first three minutes passed by, and fans didn’t have much to cheer about. The only sound that could be heard was the low hum of fan chatter, and that one drunk guy with the jersey that’s two sizes too small in the upper bowl. It was a Monday evening, and most people still had to get themselves to work the next morning. The mood was lacking electricity, and the fans in the burgundy coloured seats needed a jumpstart.
Captain Bo Horvat started that surge by scoring the game-tying goal four minutes into the third period. Then rookie blueliner Quinn Hughes rifled home a power play goal to give his team the lead with a little over six minutes remaining. The crowd cheered, then instantly focused on hoping the Canucks could protect a one-goal lead against the two highest-producing players in the league.
This is where our hero, Loui Eriksson, steps in. With the goalie pulled, and with McDavid and Draisatl throwing everything they have at the Canucks, Eriksson was on the ice trying to preserve the lead.
Eriksson did more than just prevent McDavid and Draisaitl from scoring a tying goal in the waning moments of the third. He sealed the deal for his team by potting home an empty net goal with less than 30 seconds remaining.
That is when Rogers Arena really erupted. With a big smile on his face, Eriksson embraced his teammates, to the tune of Van Halen trying desperately to get the attention of 18,000+ screaming fans.
“Hey!” shouted David Lee Roth. “Hey! Hey! Hey!” But fans weren’t listening. They were too busy cheering for Eriksson.
“The Loui Eriksson goal made my whole game,” said one fan in attendance.
Just two weeks earlier, fans similarly erupted when Eriksson got on his horse to beat out an icing call. You don’t often hear the fans roar for something as simple as that, so the question must be asked: why do fans cheer so loudly for a player whose jersey has probably sold less than 10 units?
To answer this question, let’s travel further back in time to the day that Eriksson signed with the Canucks. Part of a largely disappointing group of 2016 free agent signings, Eriksson was the top UFA available behind only Milan Lucic, who signed a seven-year deal with the Oilers.
Eriksson was coming off of a campaign where he scored 30 goals and 33 assists as a member of the Boston Bruins. The Canucks thought they were getting a player who could slide onto their first line and find instant chemistry with the Sedins, as he had in international play with Team Sweden.
The scouting report on Eriksson at the time was that he can kill penalties, play on the power play, and, most importantly, score goals, which was something the Canucks desperately needed after having just two players reach the 20-goal mark in 2015-16.
He seemed like the complete package and a complete player.
Eriksson’s Canucks’ debut was memorable for all of the wrong reasons, and would serve as a bit of a metaphor for what was to come during Eriksson’s time in Vancouver:
After that debut, Eriksson never really found his stride: in the three seasons after signing with the Canucks, he scored a total of 31 goals, barely eclipsing the 30 he scored the season before. He will go down as one of the most disappointing free agent signings in Canucks’ history, but does that mean fans have stopped rooting for the 34-year-old Swede? Not a chance.
In fact, fans seem to cheer even louder for Eriksson, perhaps because he so rarely provides something worth cheering for. That rarity makes the great plays all the more enjoyable, but even when he’s not giving the fans a reason to cheer, he doesn’t hurt the team thanks to his strong defensive game.
In recent days, the cheers have just gotten bigger. Against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, when Eriksson out-battled Jason Demers down the wing and set up Tanner Pearson’s 100th career goal, the crowd went wild. It was just another empty net goal, but the crowd didn’t treat it like one.
The Canucks social media team took notice and produced a slow-motion replay, complete with an epic movie soundtrack, far beyond what an empty net assist usually deserves.
This effort by Loui though 💪😤💯 to setup Pearson's 100th career goal. 🚨 pic.twitter.com/iKBYRkJOwu— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 17, 2020
Fans embraced it, producing their own versions, such as this one with the “Chariots of Fire” theme.
Then, on Saturday, Eriksson did more than just pick up a point on an empty net: he scored on an actual goalie. It was the type of goal he scored before he came to Vancouver, winning a battle in front of the net to bang in a loose puck. Canucks fans, already getting hyped up about empty net goals and assists, could barely contain themselves.
Eriksson is a player fans want to see succeed for a variety of reasons — certainly there’s some fans who hope a hot streak will tempt another team to take Eriksson off the Canucks’ hands —and he’s found some success recently playing alongside Bo Horvat.
“He's obviously making the most of his opportunity and he's playing really well right now,” said Horvat on Saturday. “He's playing really well defensively and chipping in on the offence as well, so it's been nice to have him on our line.”
“He's undervalued in my mind,” Horvat added. “He might not be the flashiest guy, but he makes the right play all the time and he's really good defensively. He's always on the right side of the puck."
With Josh Leivo going down for 2-3 months with an injury, Eriksson got his opportunity to play in the Canucks’ top-six once again, and his line with Horvat and Pearson has thrived.
With Eriksson on the ice with Horvat at 5-on-5, the Canucks have a corsi of 52%, which means the Canucks have controlled 52% of the shot attempts. More than that, the line has put up points: Horvat has 15 points in 13 games, 14 of them at even strength, since Eriksson joined the line on December 21st, 2019.
Before Saturday night’s tilt with the Sharks, fans even belted out a “Luuu” chant when Eriksson’s name was announced in the starting lineup, a chant typically reserved for the Canucks’ franchise leader in wins, Roberto Luongo.
While Eriksson likely won’t be remembered as a “fan favourite” far off in the future, he certainly is a favourite amongst the fans inside Rogers Arena when he manages to deliver. Perhaps if he delivers at the right time — say, the playoffs? — he could even become a Vancouver legend: the Legend of Loui.