- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

George McPhee, the Capitals’ longtime general manager, used the word “guts” when discussing his team’s trade-deadline deal that sent prospect Filip Forsberg to the Nashville organization for veteran Martin Erat and prospect Michael Latta.

Yes, you do expect a little bigger return when you deal away someone considered among your best prospects. You don’t expect your first responses to be, “Who?” and “What?”

So we’ll stipulate the guts part. McPhee has that.

Brains? We’ll let you know.

He’s either a genius who has been able to oversell or a schlub who got taken in a moment of delusion and mad desire to finally see his team make a real, live run at the Stanley Cup. We may know the answer in a couple of weeks. We may not know for a few years.

In Erat, the Caps are getting a 31-year-old who has played with Nashville for his entire NHL career. Judging from his stats, he looks to be a very good but not great player. If Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro are your “A” level offensive players, slot Erat in at the top of the next level along with the likes of Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera (at least the one we used to know) and maybe Marcus Johansson.

He’s had at least 49 points and 16 goals every year since 2003-04. He only has four goals this year, though it is likely an aberration rather than a sign of a drop-off. He’s no longer young, but he has some years left.

He’s a fine addition and may help. But is he really a tremendous upgrade over what’s already there? Wouldn’t a tough-as-nails defensive defenseman have been a better addition?

And, most important, does anyone truly feel the Capitals are more of a Stanley Cup threat with Erat than without? Just making the playoffs is a challenge, though the Caps were closing in on the lead in the weak Southeast even before the move. Once in, does anyone with an objective mind see this team getting by Boston again, much less Pittsburgh?

If you’re going to give up maybe your best prospect, get someone who moves the needle, someone who makes the hockey world sit up and say, “Uh oh, the Caps mean business.” Even if you have to throw in a couple of lesser prospects, like the Nationals did when they acquired Gio Gonzalez.

But therein lies the rub. How good of a prospect did the Caps give up?

Forsberg was taken 11th overall in last year’s draft. The website Hockey’s Future updated pretty quickly after the trade and already lists Forsberg as Nashville’s top prospect based on the scoring system it uses. He’s given an 8.0 on their 10-point rating scale, which the site says means “first-line forward/No. 2 defenseman/no. 1 goaltender — players with definite skill that might be just a cut below elite status, but still possessing All-Star potential.”

That’s pretty good, and too big a price to pay for Erat.

If they’re right.

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