The NHL’s holiday trade embargo lifts tonight, meaning the league’s general managers can go back to wheeling and dealing, even though in-season wheeling and dealing has gone the way of the dinosaur, trade deadline notwithstanding.
Washington left wing Martin Erat made his trade request public more than a month ago, but it’s no surprise that the 32-year-old veteran is still here in the District. With Brooks Laich on the sidelines for most of the last month, the Caps would have left themselves vulnerable on the left side had they moved Erat without getting help at that position in return.
Laich returned to action on Monday night against Anaheim. He led the Caps in shorthanded ice time in that game, and skated 13:23 overall on the evening. After starting the game on the left side of the Capitals’ fourth line, Laich and Erat switched spots late in the game with Erat moving down and Laich sliding into the middle of the third line between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward.
Given Laich’s return earlier in the week, his move into Erat’s slot in the middle of the third line and the impending end of the NHL’s annual holiday trade embargo, it seemed like a good bet that the Erat trade watch would start in earnest as days of calendar 2013 dwindled.
Not so fast.
On Friday, the Caps reconvened after a three-day holiday break for a morning skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in preparation for tonight’s tilt against the New York Rangers, a fairly crucial Metropolitan Division game. Laich skated with his teammates this morning, but he woke up feeling poorly after the Anaheim game and doesn’t feel good enough to play tonight.
“He feels really close,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “He didn’t feel great the next morning. It subsided a little bit [since]. I think it’s going to be an ongoing thing and we’re going to monitor it all the time until it either gets away totally or gets out of his head totally. We don’t want to set him back. I don’t think we did anything in the game [on Monday] to set him back that a practice wouldn’t have, so I was glad to have him in the game. But it’s not going to happen tonight.”
That means Aaron Volpatti is back in the lineup tonight after a one-game absence. Unless the Caps are able to get a left wing or a lefty shooting forward back in return for Erat, it’s difficult to envision him leaving town before Laich is healthy. Chimera, Volpatti and Marcus Johansson are the only other left wings on the roster and Johansson is a center by trade.
Although he is a right wing and a right-handed shot, Eric Fehr has been skating on the left side for several weeks because Washington has greater depth on the right side and is lacking a bit in that area on the left.
Remember, you may see Erat’s “request” termed a “demand” in some places. But it’s clearly the former, not the latter. A player can’t trade himself; he needs a GM to do it for him. We’ll see how long it takes before Erat is actually able to pack his bag.
In other news, Philipp Grubauer gets the nod in net for the sixth time in the last nine games. With 30 saves on 31 shots, Grubauer earned his first career NHL victory on Dec. 8 against the Rangers in New York.
“It’s a long year,” says Oates. “He’s only played a couple games but I feel comfortable with him right now and I’m just going to play him.”
Here’s how the Caps are expected to lineup against the Blueshirts tonight:
Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr-Mikhail Grabovski-Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera-Martin Erat-Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Mike Green
John Erskine-Steve Oleksy
On the New York end of the equation, Cam Talbot gets the call in goal for the third straight game. Talbot is making his 11th start of the season tonight, and he could become the first Rangers’ goaltender not named Henrik Lundqvist to start more than 20 games since 2005-06 when Kevin Weekes drew 32 starts as Lundqvist’s backup.
Lundqvist is in a bit of a slump; he’s 2-4-2 with a 3.41 GAA and an .874 save pct. in eight December appearances.