When the Washington Capitals traded highly touted prospect Filip Forsberg last April, fans nearly rioted. Forsberg was sent to the Nashville Predators in return for winger Martin Erat and AHL center Michael Latta. The young Swede was projected to be a star player a few years on in the Caps organization – some even dubbed him the Caps’ number two offensive prospect. Erat was seen as a solid veteran producer, though he’s never scored more than 23 goals in a season. In light of Brooks Laich’s health concerns, a need for secondary scoring (provided by someone not named Evgeny Kuznetsov), and Washington’s need to win a Stanley Cup, general manager George McPhee made a shocking move late at the trade deadline.
Speculation was abundant, as rumors claimed that Alex Ovechkin was to be traded in return for Ryan Miller, or that Kuznetsov was finally coming to the NHL. While the latter would have been ideal (and the former horribly preposterous), it was swiftly revealed that Forsberg would report to Nashville, while Erat (who requested a trade) and Latta would be making their way to Washington and Hershey respectively.
Per usual, GMGM came under fire for trading away such a prized prospect. To be fair, much of the criticism was deserved – there’s little doubt that bringing Erat to DC was done with the intent to win a Stanley Cup, and to win one as soon as possible, regardless of repercussions down the road. Erat is thirty-two and isn’t getting any younger – a factor the Capitals took into consideration when deciding whether or not to resign Mike Ribeiro, who is 33. At the time of the trade, Forsberg was eighteen years old. Having never played in an NHL game, Forsberg’s talent and youth could have been a better long-term deal for the Caps.
But owner Ted Leonsis has made clear his longing to bring a Cup to DC. The players themselves have, too – and as of now, Troy Brouwer is the only Cap with a Stanley Cup ring. Caps fans are growing feistier than ever, especially as season tick by and the team fails to advance to the third round of the playoffs.
So, was McPhee justified in trading Forsberg? The Capitals are missing the secondary scoring threat that was once known as Alex Semin. Ribeiro temporarily filled the void by notching dozens of helpers, but in terms of sheer, raw goal-scoring, the Caps were left empty.
KHL star Evgeny Kuznetsov was supposed to fill those shoes. Drafted in 2010, Kuzya has made dozens of half-hearted but noncommittal statements hinting that he’d come play for the Caps, but none of those have come to fruition. Whether he’ll ever end up in the NHL is anyone’s guess, and trying to follow his drama-filled saga is like watching the stock market all day.
So, how does this relate to Erat? Like Kuznetsov, Forsberg is young, though he hasn’t yet shown what he can do at a higher level. But bear in mind he scored his first NHL goal on October 8th and has settled in nicely, while Erat is without any points thus far and is trapped on the fourth line alongside Jay Beagle and rookie Tom Wilson. Given Erat’s experience and talent, he should be playing on at least the third line and doing more than just grind work.
Not to mention, his ice time has dropped drastically – under Adam Oates, he’s at a career low. Erat has described the situation as “very frustrating”, which is understandable. He was brought in to play (most likely) as a top-six forward, yet his role has been downgraded immensely. Oates has indicated that he won’t fiddle with his lines just yet, either. It’s unlikely Erat will spend the remainder of the season playing the role of a bottom-six forward, but we’re barely a week into the season. It’s a time for experimentation, both subtle and drastic – in some ways, it’s like the preseason (during which Erat tried center for the first time in his pro career.)
Regardless of the specifics of Erat’s role with the Caps, one thing is clear. He must step up (or be given the opportunity to do so), or Washington will have squandered away one of its best prospects – and maybe a shot at the Stanley Cup – for a quick fix that could be a blemish for years to come.