- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

BOSTON (AP) - Heading into his first trade deadline as general manager of the Boston Bruins, Don Sweeney’s biggest task was to resolve the situation with pending free agent Loui Eriksson.

When the deadline passed at 3 p.m. EST on Monday, Eriksson was still with the Bruins and he did not have a contract extension. Eriksson is in the final year of a six-year contract with an annual salary cap charge of $4.25 million, and at the end of the season, he can become an unrestricted free agent.

The 30-year-old Eriksson is tied for second on the Bruins in points (48) and goals (23) and is third among Bruins forwards in average ice time (19:38) while playing a major role on the power play and penalty kill. The Bruins are currently in a playoff position as the third-place team in the Atlantic Division, one season after failing to make the postseason for the first time in eight years. With that in mind, Sweeney said he was willing to hang on to Eriksson.

“In all honestly I had evaluated over the course of months really as to whether or not Loui was going to be signed before the deadline. We’ve been in contract negotiations. We’ll continue to talk with Loui and his group,” Sweeney said. “I’ve always valued the type of player Loui is. The season he’s having I think is important for where our club is. And if the deal wasn’t going to be right, then we were going to maintain our position. If you look around the league, I don’t think any team currently in a playoff position traded a player of Loui’s magnitude. … And for me Loui Eriksson’s an important part of what we’re doing now, to be in the position we’re in. It could be also for an extended period of time if we do find a deal.”

Instead of trading Eriksson, Sweeney made two trades to acquire supplemental players. The Bruins acquired forward Lee Stempniak, 33, from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in 2016 and a second-round draft pick in 2017. They also acquired defenseman John-Michael Liles, 35, for a third-round draft pick in 2016, a fifth-round pick in 2017 and Anthony Camara.

In 63 games, Stempniak has 16 goals and 41 points. Liles has six goals and 15 points in 64 games.

The Bruins have two first-round picks this year, and may end up with two second-round picks as well because Edmonton must send Boston its second-rounder in either 2016 or 2017 as compensation for hiring former-Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli as president and general manager last year. Because of that stockpile and a nice stable of prospects, Sweeney said it was easier to part with draft picks to add to this season’s team.

“Lee’s versatility, the type of year he’s having, I think will complement our group very well. He can play in a bunch of different positions for us,” Sweeney said. “And John-Michael Liles is another player that brings a lot of versatility to our group. I think we will have the ability to have a guy with experience that can move the puck and complement again some of the hard and heavy guys that we have and go in and play an important role hopefully going forward.”

Eriksson projects as one of the most coveted unrestricted free agent forwards this summer along with the crown jewel, Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and David Backes of the St. Louis Blues. Sweeney still thinks the Bruins can prevent Eriksson from reaching the open market.

“We made a significant offer, there’s a gap there,” Sweeney said. “I’m not really concerned with leverage at that point and time. If the player believes between now and the end of the year that this is where he wants to be and if we find the right deal that fits, then we’re going to be able to find common ground.”

Sweeney hopes that common ground is found before, during or after a Bruins playoff run.

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