So let’s walk through how today went from 3pm until about 5:45pm today.
First, the trade deadline hit that 3pm cut off point. Everything seemed fine and dandy as reporters and others in the twitterverse were gathering at Kettler Iceplex and ready to see George McPhee pop up and make his usual dull and boring presence. We expected him to wax poetically about how now was not the right time to move because there was nothing good in return or nothing available. Here was the problem though: he didn’t show up. 4pm came by, and he still did not show up. The internet was beginning to explode. Rumors were coming out that the Capitals joined the Wild and Kings in feasting on the Sabres’ dead carcass. And then…
“Holy Sh*t!!! No!!!”
That was me at 5:15pm. After making fun of the Flyers for almost trading a future star of their own in a world class defenceman but another expensive player, boy you can’t help but feel the schadenfreude piled all over yourself. That was when I saw the following post from Japers Rink with the Capitals’ press release accomodated:
Some will say all we did was give up a prospect for a guaranteed top-6 forward. Oh we gave up a prospect alright. We gave up the 17th overall prospect via hockeysfuture.com. We gave up a player in which Caps fans were knew a lot about him before he ever donned an NHL uniform. We gave up a world class dancer. We gave up the captain of Sweden in this year’s World Juniors. Finally, from the outside, we gave up a very mature young man at the tender age of 18 that fans would have adored on and off the ice. There is no way you would be shocked to see him as a future captain for Washington if things really were to go south for Alex Ovechkin. He is basically a Swedish Brooks Laich with Alex Semin’s wrist shot and speed.
How can you trade a person like that? Well, unless you want to make your team better…now!
As mentioned by others, the Caps are about to hit consecutive seasons in no mans land. Simple stats and advanced stats can not deny this fact. However, after hours of having the dust settle, you can not help but mention that whether you agree or disagree the trade, that was nothing short of riveting theater if you are a Caps fan. Hey, I know that last sentence sounded exactly like “whether you agree or disagree on an absolutely terrible refereeing decision that changed the game and screwed ‘Team A’ to an unbelievable pulp, at least we’re talking about the sport and that’s why this game is great” (looking at you, soccer), but still!!!
Let’s break it down.
First, let’s get one very important thing straight. Martin Erat is not a terrible player (yes, that is my expert opinion). First, let’s review my post from a couple of weeks ago of what a top 6 forward should put up every season. If you compare that to Erat’s career, he has been a top-32 right winger for six or seven of his first ten years in the NHL and has hit the top-60 mark in all of them, except for his sophomore slumping 2003 season. So in other words, the man can play! As mentioned in the Caps’ press release, Erat has had a ton of minutes on the power play and was Nashville’s team leader among forwards in time on ice. This will lead to the Capitals finally having two power play units instead of one. Plus, even if he has been called a right winger all his life, as soon as Adam Oates sees that he shoots left, the first thought will be moving him to the left wing immediately; a gigantic team need all season.
With all this said, Erat’s shots per game have been below his career average the last two seasons. He does however, have better than average assists numbers, so he will try to see how he can improve the teammates around him in his line. However, his shooting percentage is horribly low this year (after hitting an all-time high last year) and has resulted in just four goals this year. The advanced stats proved that Erat’s career season in 2012 was obviously a fluke, but for the most part, the possession will tilt his team’s way. Unfortunately, you can’t help to think that his points per game and corsi drop dramatically come playoff time. Erat’s cap hit will also be a gigantic worry in the long term for the Capitals, as he will be owed $4.5 million per year until 2015. The Capitals have $10 million to spend for 2014, but at least $6 million of that will go to resigning RFAs Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson and we haven’t even talked about any of the unrestricted guys or potential free agent targets yet, let alone Mike Ribeiro. With all this said, Martin Erat is now in Washington, with some of the most skilled players in the world, with a coach that doesn’t mind letting them loose a bit and in a conference where offense is not so restricted.
Now, to Michael Latta. Within a few hours, he went from being Nashville’s 3rd best prospect overall to immediately becoming Washington’s best center prospect; a position we all know needs an upgrade of young talent. He was Nashville’s 3rd round pick in 2009, 13 spots higher than Cody Eakin. Unklike Cody Eakin, Michael Latta has developed into a mean son of a gun you don’t want to mess with. Even with being 3rd in scoring on the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals this season and having 62 points in 118 career AHL games, he has 284 penalty minutes to boot. Since Matt Hendricks’ contract is up this summer, do not be surprised to see him leave and have Latta fill his shoes next year. Honestly, Aaron Volpatti and Steve Oleksey should never be on the 23-man roster and John Erskine should be a 7th defenceman on a Stanley Cup contending team, so that should result in possibly seeing Latta as the Cap’s #1 choice to drop the gloves. Even though Washington loses a top-tier talent, you still have Evgeny Kuznetsov, Philipp Grubauer and Tom Wilson ready to be called up at any moment next year. Add the fact that Washington has an interesting collection of college talent(Caleb Herbert, Patrick Wey, Nate Schmidt and Riley Barber), underrated Hershey (Thomas Kundratek and Cameron Schilling) and CHL guys(Chandler Stephenson and Connor Carrick) and it is not like this team will be going through a drought in the prospect pool anytime soon.
So we know the players the Caps got in return. Let’s see how on earth a deal like this got done. First, let’s review what I thought about Nashville in Monday’s Ribeiro trade/contract extension preview.
“So for the Caps, as soon as David Poile knows that his old team is trying to reach him, 99 times out of 100, he hangs up and rips the cord out of the land line phone.”
Apparently, that did not count what happens if George McPhee offers another trade that would certainly get Mr. Poile’s attention. Also, guess who Michael Latta’s former head coach is down in Milwaukee? That’s right, former Capitals assistant Dean Evason (Dean wanted to ask how the penalty kill is going by the way)! Isn’t that a little eerie? Remember how the Kevin Garnett to Boston and Pau Gasol to Los Angeles trades went down in the NBA? They happened because former players turned GMs (Minnesota’s GM Kevin McHale for Boston and Memphis’ GM Jerry West for the Lakers) helped their former teams out by giving the (at the time, at least) better player away. Sometimes these things happen.
Next, there were many clues that led to this trade happening. First, George McPhee once again found a way to lose to the wall behind him for most personality in the press conference last weekend. However, there was a statement that wouldn’t surprise me if it woke some media members up by the shiver in the smallest presence of charisma. McPhee time and again could not stop and mention how this Capitals team is good enough to make the playoffs. Many Caps fans may disagree, but as soon as that was said, you knew GMGM would never treat this trade deadline like a yard sale. Add the fact that Mike Ribeiro played in Washington’s win over Carolina on Tuesday and the exclamation mark was added onto McPhee’s agenda.
Also, remember this post from Russian Machine Never Breaks? If you have been following the Caps since 2008, it is beyond obvious George McPhee and Ted Leonsis have vowed to never let player agents win any hand in any discussion, ever. Some will counter this with Ovechkin’s contract extension, but remember it was just Ovechkin and his family that were negotiating the deal, so they don’t count. It has been no secret that having Jaromir Jagr’s agent own the room during contract talks in the summer of 2002 was arguably the biggest eye opener by McPhee and Leonsis when it came to learning how to deal with roster construction and develop mental strength and fortitude as a hockey front office. Since 2009, we’ve had a lot of examples of the lessons learned from the Jagr situation. Remember Semyon Varlamov’s agent threatening the Caps that if he doesn’t get $4 million a year, he would go play in the KHL despite having a terrible injury record at such a young age? Remember when Alex Semin’s agent blasted the Caps for under-utilizing him by never having him on the penalty kill? Remember Tomas Fleischmann’s agent arguing that he could play second line center despite having such poor faceoff numbers, he made Mike Ribeiro look like Rod Brind’amour? Now this! In other words, if you are an agent or player’s current team official and you want to screw around with the Caps, good luck having your player get what he wants in Washington. Watch out Evgeny Kuznetsov, you might be next.
Lastly, look at the trades this entire midseason deadline. Remember how many stories were written about Jarome Iginla’s pending trade? After years and years of media members constantly screaming at GM Jay Feaster to rebuild Calgary and give up their captain and long time face of the franchise, what did they get in return? A 2013 1st round pick, Pittsburgh’s #13 prospect Kenny Agostino and #9 prospect Ben Hanowski, that’s what. Really, a 500-goal scorer gives you that in return?!?!
Speaking of potential hall of fame members, guess what Dallas got in the Jaromir Jagr trade? A 2013 1st (if Boston makes the Eastern Conference finals) or 2nd round pick, and no name players Lane McDermid and Cody Payne. I could have went to the bathroom and the toilet would have gotten something better in return. No wonder why George McPhee wouldn’t waste his time listening to Mike Ribeiro offers! If it wasn’t for Filip Forsberg, try and list the other highly rated prospects that were dealt during this years trade deadline. You can only list one name, and that is #44 overall prospect Joe Morrow during the Brenden Morrow trade.
Good for the Rangers and Blue Jackets for showing the NHL what a real hockey trade should look like. Both teams took risks and both teams stopped at nothing at getting players that will help them in return in the long term and short term. Most importantly, Washington and Nashville showed some real courage too. I couldn’t care less if it’s midseason or postseason, if you want to make a trade that will best help your team, for goodness sake, make a trade that best help your team! Dallas and Calgary showed little courage when it came to making their marquee trades, and now they have to be in a significantly longer rebuilding process as a result. They have no one to blame but themselves for this. So for better or for worse, George McPhee’s goal as Washington’s GM is to makes a transaction that makes an immediate impact and that has been evident on every major move he has made throughout the Ovechkin era. As much as he has never been one to express himself, it is his body of work that really brings out his personality, and you can’t help but admire that.
So in short, who knows if the Washington Capitals won or lost the Martin Erat trade. What I do know is that Washington are now completely set on their top two lines and now hold seven forwards that are having top-60 seasons (Alex Ovechkin, Troy Brower, Mike Ribeiro, Nicklas Backstrom, Erat, Joel Ward? and Eric Fehr?). That is enough for a stereotypical playoff team. However, the Capitals desperately need to sort out their Salary Cap in the summer, but I am sure plenty of dead weight will be gone, traded, waived or amnestied (hello Mike Green, Joel Ward and/or Jeff Schultz?) to make that happen. They will also desperately need to think about what to do with Mike Ribeiro again and, odds are, with the same potential solutions right in front of them. If anything else, George McPhee now has a hockey team where he can set not only a plan B, but a plan C, D, E, F and G as to what the he can do to build their hockey team towards getting back into contention status and sometimes doing that is just as important as anything in hockey.