When the Washington Capitals acquired Martin Erat from the Nashville Predators in exchange for promising prospect Filip Forsberg at the 2013 trade deadline there were many people who shook their heads in disgust. This was not because Erat is not a good player but because the Capitals already had a plethora of proven forwards and there were few who believed he was a better long term fit for the organization than Forsberg.
Throughout the remainder of the 2012-13 season Erat struggled to find his footing, averaging only 13:55 on the ice per game, and contributing one goal and two assists through the final nine games of the season. This line would not improve in the Capitals first round loss to the New York Rangers, as the forward did not pick up a single point before dislocating his elbow in Game 4 of the series.
These struggles have only manifested themselves through the early portions of the 2013-14 season, as Capitals head coach Adam Oates has found no role that suits Erat’s skill set. The result of this is that he has not scored a single goal in 21 games and averaged a mere 13:03 on the ice per game while being utilized as a fourth line player.
Nine other forwards on the Capitals have averaged more time on the ice than Erat, and it appears that they are not struggling to find the scoring impact that he can bring to the table. Thus far the team has compiled a 12-8-1 record, which has them placed atop the Metropolitan Division and in second place in the Eastern Conference. Furthermore they have scored the eighth most goals in the NHL at 3.0 per game and have the second best power play in the league at 24.4 percent.
While Erat does have great hands, quickness on the open ice and can be utilized on either wing, it is clear that Oates has developed a system in which he is not needed.
What the Capitals do need, though, is a defensive stabilizer, as their 2.8 goals allowed per game ranks 20th in the NHL. Currently only John Carlson and Karl Alzner are healthy and proven top four defensmen, with Mike Green a question mark after recently being placed on injured reserve with a lower body injury and not having played more than 49 games since the 2009-10 season.
After watching the team go down early in the playoffs for six consecutive seasons it is painfully obvious that a stopper on the blue-line will be necessary come playoff time while a goal scoring threat that seems more likely to be a healthy scratch than to play on the top two lines is not.
At only 32 years of age and being under contract through the 2014-15 season there is no doubting that Erat would be good bait to get this needed second line defenseman. While he may not be a top line winger on many playoff teams, a second line role seems perfect after he compiled 49 points or more in every full seasons since the 2003-04 season. Furthermore, he has played at least 17:59 in each of these years, so there is no doubting that given the chance to perform he will excel.
Trading Erat so soon after acquiring him may seem like a quick admission from general manager George McPhee that he made the wrong decision at the trade deadline, but ultimately his job is to make the Capitals a better team. At this point there is no doubting that acquiring a second line defeseman would do this and would also make the team much more likely to be a force come playoff time.