After going 5-1-1 in the past seven games, Capitals players said before the trade deadline that they wanted to keep this team together. They showed an ability to climb into the playoff picture, so they didn’t think there was any sense in trading Mike Ribeiro and writing off this season.
General manager George McPhee not only held onto every NHL player, he went out and acquired winger Martin Erat from the Nashville Predators by trading only prospect Filip Forsberg. That’s something of a vote of confidence for these Caps, who are two points back of the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets going into Thursday night’s game against the New York Islanders.
“I would think for the players it shows that we want to win,” coach Adam Oates said. “And obviously as a coaching staff we feel that way.”
Forward Brooks Laich doesn’t quite buy into the idea that players should feel a boost from management’s belief. He said every team has an internal confidence that exists independently from what the front office does.
That aside, Laich and his teammates welcome Erat to the mix.
“I really think he fits our team structure, he’s got great speed, he can dart to holes and he’s a tremendous skater,” said Laich, who played against Erat in the Western Hockey League. “I think he’s going to be really excited to be here and play with an offensive minded team and we’re certainly excited to have him.”
Laich mentioned Erat’s consistency: eight straight seasons between 48 and 58 points. The 31-year-old is also familiar with Oates’ system because of his time in Nashville under coach Barry Trotz.
“It’s just a lot of details. It’s quite similar,” said right wing Joel Ward, who played with Erat in Nashville. “You create chances off turnovers. In Nashville, I think on paper, people think they wouldn’t score as many goals or they don’t have the offensive talents as they do, bu you find a job, you play the system. You play any system the correct way and you’ll get some positive results.”
McPhee mentioned Erat as a guy who plays the “right way.” Having more of that with the Caps is a welcome addition.
“It means that he understands how to function within a system and do your own job within it,” Oates said. “And he’s obviously been well-coached there and they’ve had a lot of success, especially last year where they obviously really took a shot at it. And he knows how to function within that.”
What Erat brings to the Caps is a guy who will play left wing because Oates likes his left-handed shooters on that side. McPhee emphasized Erat’s speed and skating ability, but former teammate Jack Hillen said he does a little of everything.
“I think he’s an excellent player,” the veteran defenseman said. “He’s an all-around, two-way player, works hard, has a lot of skill. It’s the old adage: when skill works hard, it can be very tough to beat.”
Erat’s skating is one thing that could help him fit in quickly.
“He’s probably licking his chops,” Laich said. “He brings creativity, he’s slippery, you can’t hit him, he’s strong on the puck, he’s got a good shot and he can make plays too so a great addition to our top six.”
Erat starts his Caps career on the third line with Mathieu Perreault and Ward. There’s no sense in disrupting the top two lines, and this allows Erat to ease in with a new team.
But the multitalented Erat, who can kill penalties and contribute on the power play, won’t be wasted.
“He’ll be involved. Absolutely. He’s I think second on [Nashville] in ice time. I don’t see why that should change,” Oates said. “Very important. A guy that can play in all situations, which is why he’s an upper-echelon player. Obviously, he’s a smart guy. He can handle the responsibilities of playing in so many different types of situations.”
Erat is another one of those guys, along with Laich and Backstrom. In getting him, the Caps didn’t have to draw from the talent they have, which could have posed a problem.
“If you add pieces or subtract pieces from your locker room, you can disrupt chemistry,” Laich said. “You really can do that.”
That’s not a concern this time. Erat’s here for the here and now.
“I don’t know anything about the future. That’s not my job to do that. That’s George’s,” Hillen said. “But as far as this year, it’s great that we get to keep our group of guys here because we’ve got a good group. We didn’t lose anybody and we added a good character guy to the mix that should in fit in seamlessly. As far as that aspect, it’s a really good move.”