In trading for Erat, Caps’ McPhee makes a move with guts

McPhee Scowls Down

George McPhee (Photo credit: clydeorama)

The Washington Capitals caused a stir on Wednesday, trading highly touted 18 year-old prospect Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators at the NHL trade deadline for 31 year-old winger Martin Erat and 21 year-old prospect Michael Latta.

Regardless of how these players perform from here, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee has made a move with guts.

In the Alex Ovechkin era, the Caps have become an organization that often seems be waiting for the future to get here. And something they’ve rarely done is take a risk by dealing young prospects to try to change that.

McPhee has made his fair share of deadline acquisitions in recent years for players such as Sergei Fedorov, Jason Arnott and Cristobal Huet, to name just a few. But these have often been deals to bring in older players or ones in the final year of a contract for a short time, and without having to sacrifice a great deal in return. There’s always been somewhat of a “we’re not trading away the future for today” mentality. The Caps have made their moves in the time of the Young Guns, but they’ve never really been all that bold.

Erat isn’t simply a rental player, acquired for the stretch run. He’s under contract for another two seasons after this one at a very reasonable $4.5 million salary cap hit. The Caps have potentially filled a hole that existed in their top six forwards for the near future and without having to take on a long-term or expensive contract.

Erat has averaged .67 points per game in his 11 year NHL career, playing mostly in a defensive-minded system in Nashville. His numbers could be similar in Washington or they could make a jump now that he’ll be playing in a more offense-driven set up and with higher caliber offensive talent. It could certainly be argued that no forward on Nashville’s current roster has the established playmaking talent of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom or Mike Ribeiro.

Could Erat end up being a bust and produce less than he has for the Predators? Absolutely. Could Forsberg be a 20-plus goal scorer or better in the league for a decade or more? Sure. But these are the chances the top teams in sports often take, sacrificing some of tomorrow for a better shot now.

The Caps have not suddenly made the leap to serious Cup contenders with this one move, though anything can happen in the playoffs if they make it. But they’ve made a trade to improve their chances at the post-season now and to make themselves better for the next two years, rather than waiting to see if prospects pan out. If Forsberg and others take a season or two to adjust to the NHL, that’s more sand through the hourglass with the current core of Caps.

And the Caps do still have several promising prospects, including forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson. A roster balance must be maintained to remain competitive in the present, yet positioned for down the road. The Caps have hardly thrown away the future with this one risk.

Except for the once-in-a-generation types, new players can be found via trade, the draft and free agency. Another player of Filip Forsberg’s caliber will come along—there will be several of them available every single NHL draft day, in fact. Barring some huge scouting breakdown, the Caps have not dealt away the next Backstrom or Ovechkin. They traded a still very young player who should not be impossible to replace.

What you can’t get back is time. And unless the Caps want to wake up one day with a 35 year-old Ovechkin on their roster and no Stanley Cups or serious runs at one, they need to take some chances. McPhee just did.

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About Mike Holden

Mike Holden is a blogger and communications professional who also writes at mikeholden.com. He can be found on Twitter at @mikeholden. Read more of his sports writing.

Posted on April 4, 2013, in NHL, Washington Capitals and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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