In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, Mike Ribeiro didn’t know where he’d finish the season. By the morning of April 3, the Washington Capitals were within two points of first place and the veteran center was able to relax.
Several hours later, the Caps didn’t just hold on to Ribeiro for the stretch run. Instead, general manager George McPhee gave up a potential piece of the future for immediate help in the form of left wing Martin Erat.
Even though injury has limited Erat to seven games in a Caps uniform, his arrival meant everything within a locker room of an Eastern Conference contender.
“During the trade deadline there’s a lot of stress,” Ribeiro said. “Once that is over and you see that we’re able to get a top-six player in the lineup, then it just gives comfort to guys, [who are] more comfortable knowing that they believe in us and what we have here. … There’s no questions in your mind anymore.”
Erat had just a goal and two assists in his first six games since the trade that sent highly touted prospect Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators. The 31-year-old suffered an apparent left leg injury early in his second game with the Caps and missed three more, but he brings more than production.
“He can do everything,” defenseman Mike Green said. “He plays great defense, he can create offense, he can shoot the puck, so he’s got it all.”
All without the drama of bringing a substantial ego into an already established team. The Pittsburgh Penguins showed they didn’t disrupt chemistry in acquiring Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow, but there was never even that concern with Erat.
“We were excited to have him; he was excited to be here,” forward Jay Beagle said. “And I think that’s one of the main things that’s important is when a guy’s excited to be here, I think it can only be good for a team. Especially with his work ethic, how can you not like the guy? That’s why I think it didn’t really disrupt anything because we all welcomed him and love what he brings.”
Even if it wasn’t a splash like the Boston Bruins trading for Jaromir Jagr or the Columbus Blue Jackets getting Marian Gaborik, the Caps made a major improvement in getting Erat for the second line. Considering injuries to Brooks Laich and Joel Ward that happened just after the trade, it worked out well to have Erat to plug in when he was healthy.
“Absolutely. He’s got that skill set,” coach Adam Oates said. “And it’s great to have him because you can use him killing penalties, power play, four-on-four. You can use him in every situation.”
Erat started on the third line because of his familiarity with Ward and the success the top two lines were enjoying at the time. It doesn’t matter to Erat where he plays; he’s enjoying the start of the second chapter of his NHL career.
“You’re winning most of the games, it’s great feelings,” he said. “Guys are comfortable. That’s always good to come to a team like that.”
Even more, Erat understood what his acquisition meant to a team with legitimate playoff aspirations.
“When you are on the team, when you’re adding [players], it’s always the confidence you bring to the dressing room,” he said. “All the guys [are] playing well right now. It’s unbelievable.”
That’s due in no small part to Erat, who possesses speed and playmaking ability that teammates rave about. Defenseman Karl Alzner said he fit in well because of his skating and, of course, veteran experience.
“He is a guy that has everything that the stars have,” left wing Marcus Johansson said. “He’s such a good all-around player and he’s going to be a really big player for us in the playoffs.”
The Caps are 8-1 since the Erat trade, but the playoffs are where the true benefit of the move will be measured. He had just 23 points in 48 playoff games for the Predators, but judging from his performance so far with Washington, players think his impact will only continue to grow.
“Marty’s an outstanding player and he’s getting better and better each game,” Green said. “He’s going to be one of those guys that’s going to be a big part of our success down the road.”