By Chris Gordon
Since coming to the Washington Capitals in April, Martin Erat has twice requested a trade: once early this season and again last week. During the same timeframe, Erat scored just one goal. You might expect Caps general manager George McPhee to be disappointed. He gave up an elite prospect in the hopes Erat would fill a vital top-six role. Instead, he ended with a fourth liner-cum-healthy scratch who wants the hell out of Arlington.
McPhee, however, has a different view.
“Things change,” he told reporters at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday. “No regrets. We did what we had to do then, and we’ll do what we have to do now.”
The GM explained that then when he made the move for Erat in the spring, the injury status of Brooks Laich was uncertain. He didn’t even know whether the forward would be back for the 2013-14 season. The Erat trade, then, wasn’t meant to shore up a long-term hole, but to make a push for the 2013 Stanley Cup.
“You want to give your team the best opportunity possible and we will always do that,” McPhee said of winning the Cup. “You can’t have the guys work their guts out all year and then not help them out at the deadline if there’s something to help them with. So we made that deal.”
What’s curious, though, is that the team didn’t anticipate this situation would arise. Laich is healthy this year, relegating Erat to the land of scrubs and scratches. It’s remarkable that a team would make a trade for a player who would become obsolete to them within months. Nevertheless, that’s exactly where we stand now, less than a year after Erat got himself traded from the Predators.
Erat’s frustration is understandable. Laich, the man who has edged him out for playing time, has been horrible this season. Still, Adam Oates has displayed a steadfast commitment to give him ice time no matter what. Erat never got that benefit of the doubt. Despite his excellent possession numbers, the Czech winger found it difficult to break out of the fourth line. Recently, he received time with Alex Ovechkin on the top trio. Saturday, though, Erat was banished to the press box for the first time in his career after a couple of Capitals loses.
By McPhee and Oates’s own admission, Erat is a good player. It’s natural that he would be disrespected by his given role. If they didn’t see him as a fit for the top-six, why wasn’t he at least put on the third line — still a more effective deployment, I think, then having someone of his skill set play with fighters and grinders. At least publicly, McPhee took no issue with Oates’s decisions.
“It’s okay that coaches want to experiment,” he said. “I’ve always told Adam, ‘You dress the lineup you need to dress to win a hockey game tonight or tomorrow night. Whatever you need in the lineup, put it in. Or take it out. Whatever you think is best.’
Tuesday, Oates insisted that he’s not flippant with his lineup moves, whatever the appearance may be.
“I’d like to think I have a method,” the coach said. “It’s unbelievable how much it’s on your mind. It’s unbelievable. It wakes me up. You’re thinking about it. You’re thinking about everybody’s feelings, you’re thinking about all these conversations that you have to have, you’re thinking about the team, who’s hot, who’s cold, how you get them in. You just try to piece it together correctly.”
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