- CSNwashington.com - Friday, November 29, 2013

Welcome to our weekly edition of Penn Quarter Sports Tavern’s 6-Pack of Questions, where we aim to keep it real while answering your most pressing questions regarding the Washington Capitals.

Let’s get started.

@CapsJohansson90 Who are the Caps looking at to trade for [Marty] Erat? Any specific player?

Can we agree the Capitals should not look for anything other than a hard-edged defenseman who can log big minutes alongside Mike Green? TSN reported a few days ago that the Vancouver Cauncks are interested in Erat. The Canucks’ top four defensemen have no-move clauses, but if there is any way the Caps can pry left-handed Dan Hamhuis away, it would fill a gaping hole. Including this season Hamhuis has three years remaining on his contract with a $4.5 million cap hit, one more than Erat, who is also at $4.5 million. Would the Canucks take Erat, Dmitry Orlov and Michal Neuvirth for Hamhuis? If not, here is a list of defensemen who may be available, a few of whom fit the above description: the Panthers’ Dmitri Kulikov, the  Rangers’ Michael Del Zotto, the Flyers’ Anrej Meszaros and Luke Schenn, the Blue Jackets’ Niikita Nikitin, the Kings’ Alex Martinez, the Canadiens’ Francois Bouillon and the Maple Leafs’ Paul Ranger. The Caps would prefer a left-handed shooter, so that limits the field to Kulikov, Del Zotto, Meszaros, Nikitin, Martinez, Bouillon and Ranger. At 23, Kulikov is the best of the bunch and has tremendous upside. He would require a lot more than Erat in a deal. Del Zotto, also 23, is in his fifth NHL season but has not impressed new Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who recently made him a healthy scratch. He’s also more of an offensive defenseman with a history of making bad turnovers. Meszaros, 28, hasn’t played for the Flyers since Nov. 7. Two seasons ago he was a reliable top four defenseman but he’s had shoulder problems for the past two seasons. Nikitin, 27, is a solid 6-foot-3, 196-pounder who is in the final year of a contract that pays him $2.5 million. Not a bad option.  Martinez, 26, has two years remaining on a contract that pays him $1.1 million. He’s a solid skater and has won a Stanley Cup, but the Kings would want more for him than Erat. As for Bouillon and Ranger, Bouilon stands only 5-foot-8 and is 38 years old. Ranger left the game for nearly three seasons for personal reasons but has a history with Adam Oates; the two spent one season together in Tampa.


@JoshJanet Something’s got to give [with Dmitry Orlov], right?

No disrespect to Nate Schmidt and Alex Urbom, but has either defenseman played so well that the Caps couldn’t give Orlov even a single game? Orlov’s agent, Mark Gandler has made it very clear Orlov has no future in Washington and the fact he’s been recalled and re-assigned to AHL Hershey five times indicates he’s probably right. It sounds to me that George McPhee would like to see Orlov get some NHL action and Adam Oates does not. I can’t see this ending any other way but with a trade.

@Robostop10 Laich has had more TOI than Erat, yet is a puck possession black hole and trails Erat in pts. Any chance #21 sits?

Well, it’s pretty clear now that given the choice between Laich and Erat, Adam Oates has chosen Laich. Maybe that has something to do with the fact Laich has three years and $12.5 million remaining on his contract beyond this season and Erat has one year and $2.25 million remaining on his. Trying to fit Erat, a career right winger, into the role of second-line center or left wing has been like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It has been suggested to me on more than one occasion that Erat could have been used as a left wing on a line with center Mikhail; Grabovski and right wing Troy Brouwer. That’s one of the few combinations Oates never tried, but I personally think the fact that Erat shoots left and wanted to play right wing was a major issue with Oates, who tried to use him on the left side. As for Laich, with 17:51 of ice time, it should be a major concern that he has just four goals and two assists and is a team-worst minus-10. All of that said, I don’t see Laich getting a seat in the press box, especially now that Erat has put himself there until there’s an injury or he’s traded.

@PeterEvans9491 When will [John] Erskine be back?

That’s a $3.925 million question. Erskine has been practicing with the team but told us recently that there’s no timetable for his return. Essentially, he’s trying to strengthen the leg muscles that went without strength training following his summer knee surgery. Erskine has been experiencing some swelling after practices and is taking his recovery day by day. If I were to put a guess on it, I’d say mid-December. But that would be a guess and I’m not sure Erskine will ever have the explosiveness and mobility he had earlier in his career. 

@CapsYapp Do you believe [Caps reaction to Martin Erat] its genuine or just refusal of the team to bash a guy going out the door?

That’s a good question but it’s an easy one to answer. If Erat was a disruptive force in the locker room, the Caps would have told him to wait at home until they trade him. Erat has shown every indication that he’s a class act and it’s the reason the Caps are showing him the respect they’ve shown. As to why he went public with his trade request, my guess is that Erat was hoping to be moved shortly after his first request two weeks into the season. When an entire month went by without satisfying that request, Erat decided it was time to turn up the heat and what better way than to go public?

@Donovefan8 1st, No adjustment on pp to free Ovi up. 2nd, Laich or Brower scratched. Not Erat. 3rd, 3rd line shoulda stayed together

That’s kind of three questions in one, but here we go. The only adjustment the Caps are making to free Alex Ovechkin from being shadowed on the power play is getting the puck into the hands of other players. If Ovechkin is covered, it’s the responsibility of guys like John Carlson, Mike Green, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Mikhail Grabovski to shoot more. As for the second question, I can’t see Laich or Brouwer getting a seat in the press box, although both clearly need to step up their games. Now that Erat has forced himself onto the scratch sheet the only other forward option is Jay Beagle and I don’t see him replacing Laich or Brouwer. In regards to the Grabovski-Jason Chomera-Ward line, yes, it was the Caps’ best on most nights. But Oates had to do something to get that second line going. First he tried Johansson; now he’s trying Grabovski. The lack of production has to be the most discouraging development of the first 25 games.