When the Capitals handed defenseman John Erskine a two-year contract extension worth just under $4 million last week, he wasn’t the only player smiling in the dressing room.
‘I love having Big John in the lineup,” left wing Matt Hendricks said. “Having him back there is kind of like having a big brother. It’s fantastic knowing he’s got your back no matter what. It definitely helps my game.”
Erskine, 33, has dropped the gloves just once this season, taking on Florida Panthers enforcer George Parros last month. With the recent addition of tough guy Aaron Volpatti, he may be asked to fight even less.
But Erskine’s snarly presence on the blue line has given the Caps something they lacked much of last season when he played in just 28 games under Dale Hunter.
“When we can have him in there, it just changes the whole dynamic,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It sometimes makes [an opponent] think twice to go in front of the net and doing something on the ice that you might not normally do. He’s our guy for that.”
Erskine leads all Caps defensemen with 37 hits but he’s also second behind John Carlson with two goals.
“When a guy with all those tattoos shoots the puck,” teammate Joel Ward said, “you better get out of the way.”
Ah, yes. The tattoos.
Erskine’s meaty arms are literally a work of art, thanks to a tattoo artist named Rob Smirle, owner of Don’t Tell Momma’s Tattoo Studio in his hometown of Kingston, Ontario.
Erskine had his first tattoo at the age of 16 – “a swirly thing on my arm” – and he received the anticipated reaction when he walked in his front door.
“My dad didn’t care. He had two tattoos and one was a cool tiger on his arm,” Erskine said. “When my mom found out she wasn’t happy. But over the years, she tends to like them now. I guess she kind of has to.”
Every summer Erskine returns to Don’t Tell Momma’s for additional artwork.
His left arm features the names of his children, along with demons and gargoyles near his biceps and angels around his forearm.
His right arm has coy fish and Japanese dragons, along with the jersey number he wore with the London Knights, 55.
The number lost its meaning when Erskine was given No. 3 with the Dallas Stars and No. 4 with the Capitals.
“There are things I got when I was younger that I’ll probably get covered up later on,” Erskine said. “Right now it’s still a work in progress. I’d like to add some color to dragons to break it up.”
Erskine also has tattoos on his legs and back and admits he may have been an influence on teammate Mike Green, who also is working on an artful arm sleeve.
“I think everybody likes them,” Erskine said. “I know Greenie will stick up for me.”
The feeling is mutual, of course, especially on the ice, where Erskine, who is 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, wasn’t afraid to take on Parros, who is 6-foot-5, 222 pounds, and considered one of the hardest punchers in the NHL.
“Big John can stand with anybody in this league and he proved it with George Parros,” Hendricks said. “We’re not lacking in that department at all. We have somebody for that level and for that weight class and really that’s all that matters.”