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In the Coyotes scheme of things, Monday night’s milestones for Loui Eriksson and Antoine Roussel were no better than mildly significant. Neither was with Arizona last season and neither has done enough on the ice to elicit warm feelings from the locals.
For the two former Dallas Stars, however, a 4-1 loss at American Airlines Center was a poignant reminder of the long miles traveled, and the limited runway remaining in their NHL careers.
“When you look at how I started the season, I was in the stands,” Roussel said. “I played one game, got scratched, played another one, got scratched for three and there you go. Things change quickly in hockey, for good and bad.”
Roussel played 6½ seasons in Dallas before signing a four-year, $12-million free-agent contract with Vancouver in 2018. All but one of his best seasons came with the Stars, where he was a depth player who brought secondary scoring and an edge.
Eriksson played seven seasons in Dallas and topped 70 points three times. After three seasons of mixed results in Boston (via the Tyler Seguin trade), he signed a six-year, $36 million contract with the Canucks in 2016. His game declined significantly and he became a punching bag for one of the loonier fan bases in the NHL.
“It was nice to get away from Vancouver,” Eriksson admitted. “It didn’t work out for me there so I just tried to work hard in the summer, and come in and take a spot on the team.”
Both players came to Arizona, along with Jay Beagle and the ninth overall pick in 2021 (Dylan Guenther), in the salary-shedding, asset-acquiring trade that sent Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland to Vancouver this summer.
Despite the passage of time, Monday marked Roussel’s first game back in Dallas since leaving. Injuries and the unique division alignment in 2020-21 kept him out of the city each of the past four seasons.
Eriksson skated in his 1,000th career NHL game on Monday, something that 360 players in NHL history have accomplished. The moment afforded him the opportunity to reminisce in the place where he made his NHL name.
“I remember my first game with Dallas and I was able to score in that game against Colorado,” he said. “I remember living with (goalie) Marty Turco the first couple years, and Steve Ott for a little, too.
“I remember the conference final in 2013 against Detroit. I had two daughters born there. It’s been 16 years and 1,000 games so it’s amazing to think about. It’s pretty cool to have done it and it’s crazy that it comes against the team that I got drafted by and that I played over 500 games with.”
How many more games either will get to experience in Dallas, or anywhere, is open for debate. Both are in the final season of their respective contracts. Eriksson hasn’t been a productive player in three NHL seasons and he will turn 37 this summer.
Roussel is also in the final year of his contract, he is 32, and he shares that three-year lack of productivity with his former Stars and Canucks teammate.
“I think it did take some time for me to get adjusted to living here,” Roussel said. “I was in Europe in August, playing for France (at the World Championship qualifier). I came back, it’s almost September, I spent another five days home, got here and there was a lot of moving parts.
“How many new players did we have? Fifteen? It’s like an expansion team, but I think we’re starting to figure it out, and I’m feeling better and better as the year goes on.”
Both players were products of salary dumps so that now-deposed Canucks GM Jim Benning could bring in Ekman-Larsson and Garland. Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong acquired the two (and Beagle) so that he could rid himself of Ekman-Larsson’s contract and acquire the pick that landed Guenther.
There is something else that Armstrong was looking for from the pair, however: leadership. While Armstrong knew that this season would be a tough one to swallow on the ice, he wanted players such as Eriksson, Roussel, Beagle, Andrew Ladd and Anton Strålman to shepherd the younger players through the suffering.
“I try to stay positive but it’s definitely not an easy situation,” Eriksson said. “There’s a lot of new players so I think everyone just tries to work as hard as they can, and for us older guys, I hope that the younger guys can take some experience and see how we prepare for the games.”
Neither Eriksson nor Roussel had any illusions about this season when they arrived. Armstrong was open with them, as he was publicly.
“If you all know their situation, I think they do, too,” coach André Tourigny said. “But for me, it was important to treat them with respect. They’re good pros. They’ve been successful and they can bring a lot to our team in terms of attitude.
“We have talked a lot this year about building our culture, having the right culture and those are perfect guys for that. They do it right every day. They are the kind of guys to guide and create the culture we want to have moving forward.”
Eriksson had a lot of family watching Monday’s game, likely including his four kids, which added to its significance.
“My two brothers, my sister and their kids will be watching,” he said Sunday. “It’s a good feeling for the whole family, and my mom and dad as well. They followed me for all the years I played.”
While the Coyotes’ game plan is all about the future, both players insist that they are not looking past the here and now.
“I’m in the moment,” Roussel said. “That’s where you have to be.
“I want to play as long as I can, but there’s rumors all the time, just like there are about this team. I just look at it like white noise. We’ll see where it goes.”
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