As the minutes ticked down to Wednesday’s NHL traded deadline, it appeared as though the Capitals might stand pat for the second time in as many seasons. But as the 3 p.m. deadline approached, Caps general manager George McPhee pulled the trigger on a deal he believes will help the Caps both for the rest of the current season and into the near future.
The Caps traded right wing prospect Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators in exchange for left wing Martin Erat and minor league center Michael Latta.
Forsberg was the Caps’ top choice (11th overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft last season. Erat is an 11-year NHL veteran who has totaled at least 49 points in each of the last eight seasons. Latta is a former third-round draft choice (72nd overall in 2009) who is playing in the AHL.
Washington just came through a rugged stretch of schedule in which it went 7-3-1 while playing nine of those 11 games on the road. That surge put the Caps in position to challenge for a Southeast Division crown and playoff berth after the team crawled out to a 2-8-1 at season’s outset.
“It’s about trying to be a good team now and in the future,” McPhee told reporters of the deal. “The players have been playing really well. We weren’t going to be sellers. We thought it would help them out if we could add another player, and we did. We didn’t have to do anything today but this was something that was raised [Tuesday] and the more we talked about it the more we thought we’d like to do it.”
The price was a bit higher than that paid for some other players who moved in the days leading up to the deadline, but that’s mainly because with two years remaining on his pact, the 31-year-old Erat is not a rental player.
“With respect to giving up young players, you’ve got to be careful doing that,” admits McPhee. “But we’ve drafted well enough that we can do it. I wanted to help this team now. There’s another draft coming up, and hopefully we’ll draft some more good players.”
The deal addresses a need for Washington, the need for some offense from the left side. The Caps have gotten nearly 50 goals from their right wingers this season, and 24 from their centers, but only 15 from the left side. Injuries to left siders Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich – both of whom are natural centers – are responsible for part of that dearth of goals, but a boost to the team’s left side still seemed to be the top need on Washington’s list heading into the trade deadline.
Erat was tied for the Nashville team lead in scoring at the time of the deal with 21 points (four goals, 17 assists). Over the last eight seasons, Erat has averaged just under 19 goals a season while playing with the defensive-minded Predators.
Playing with Washington centers Nicklas Backstrom or Mike Ribeiro, Erat may have some offensive upside.
Heading into Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline, the Capitals were two points behind front-running Winnipeg for the top spot in the Southeast Division. With an average of 2.92 goals per game, the Caps rank seventh in the NHL.
Erat was in his 11th season with the Predators, the only NHL team for which he has ever toiled until now.
“I was excited and I was sad,” Erat told reporters on a Wednesday conference call. “I’ve been in Nashville for 11 years and it’s hard to leave the city when you’ve been here for so long. But I was so excited for the opportunity to play for a Stanley Cup.”
Discouraged at Nashville’s organizational blueprint going forward, Erat asked Predators GM David Poile to find him a new home, if possible. During discussions with ex-Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik, Erat was told that Washington was a desirable place to play.
“I asked [Poile] a couple of weeks ago,” said Erat. “I approached and asked him what’s the long-[term] plan for Nashville and where the organization was going to go. In the last two weeks it came to this. I gave David [a list of] 10 teams and I approached him [and asked] if I could be traded.”
As one of only six NHL clubs to make the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of the last five seasons, the Caps were high on Erat’s list of potential destinations.
“They’ve always been in the playoffs,” says Erat. “They’ve got a great team. They just have to show it on the ice. It’s just missing a couple of pieces here and there but they’ve got a chance every year.”
A left-handed shot, Erat is speedy winger who is capable of playing on either wing.
“That will be up to Adam,” says McPhee, asked about Erat’s deployment in the District, “just exactly where he fits there. We now have some options and some flexibility. He can play both sides, but as you know Adam likes the lefties to be on the left side. Marcus [Johansson] can play in the middle, Brooks [Laich] can play the middle. The nice thing is we’re getting healthy and we have some options.
“I really don’t care if I play right or left or if I am going to play on the first or third line,” says Erat. “I just want to win.”
During his days in Nashville, Erat was teammates with current Caps Joel Ward and Jack Hillen.
“We like the player a lot,” says McPhee. “He’s a real good veteran player. Terrific speed, good sense, plays the game right. I had a good talk with Joel Ward about him as a person, his character. He said that after their captain [in Nashville], he is sort of their go-to guy in that room in terms of commitment and leadership in everything that he brings. Real committed on and off the ice, works hard on and off the ice.”
Erat has averaged at least 18 minutes per night over each of the last seven seasons. He ranked second among Predators forwards in average power play ice time per game (2:41) this season and also averaged 50 seconds per night in shorthanded ice time with Nashville this season.
With eight power play points (one goal, seven assists) this season, Erat trailed only Shea Weber on the Predators’ power play scoring ledger this season.
The price to get Erat was high, but one that McPhee ultimately deemed worth paying.
“Is it worth it?” says McPhee. “We also picked up Michael Latta. We like him a lot; a real gritty kid that’s going to play here in the near future. And we’re looking at our hockey club and saying we’d like to add another top six forward if we can.
“How soon will Forsberg be able to play? The right side is pretty stacked right now. We’ve got [Alex] Ovechkin, [Troy] Brouwer, Ward, [Eric] Fehr and [prospect Tom] Wilson. It’s a pretty thick group there. So, can we add a player that can fill out the other side of the roster?
“So we talked about that. And you discuss what can the top end be for the player that you’re giving up, and what can the players that you’re bringing in bring to your club. At the end of the day, we thought this was something we should do.”
Related: Inside Erat's First Caps Practice