Today, George McPhee might have executed the most noteworthy trade of his nearly two-decade tenure as general manager of the Washington Capitals.
In the waning moments before the NHL trade deadline, Katie Carrera of The Washington Post reported McPhee's incredibly unexpected move, dealing 2013 first-rounder Filip Forsberg to Nashville in exchange for skilled playmaker Martin Erat and former third-rounder Michael Latta.
The move says a lot of things about the Capitals' mindset: McPhee believes this team can compete in the short-term for a Stanley Cup, because giving up such a highly touted young prospect is never easy.
But a deal that sees a surging young forward depart to make room for a veteran who is only a guarantee to contribute in the near future, one always has to ask what end result will justify McPhee's decision.
And a postseason berth isn't close to a sufficient outcome.
In Erat, the Caps will get a proven two-way offensive force who has been a key player during a couple of relatively deep postseason runs with the Predators, so that's got to be McPhee's reasoning for parting ways with Forsberg.
As Carrera reported via Twitter, McPhee made a conscious choice to sacrifice a potential game-breaker down the road to get help in the immediate future.
Katie Carrera @kcarrera
McPhee on now as priority: “You’re here to win. We’ve been in that mode for a while. This is six years of trying to win a Cup…. #Caps4/3/2013, 10:17:36 PM
Yes, Forsberg projects to be a legitimate top-liner forward in the future. But with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green suddenly playing like it's 2008, McPhee saw an opportunity to enhance his club's chances of making the playoffs and potentially do damage once it gets there.
Erat's consistent, which is why he's tallied at least 50 points in five of the last six seasons, and has never scored less than 49 since breaking into the NHL. And the Caps, while offensively potent as of late, are always prone to big scoring slumps.
At $4.5 million a year through 2014-15, his cap hit is manageable for a viable top-six forward, which Erat most certainly is.
Forsberg might well have gone on to become the perfect foil for Backstrom and Ovechkin a few seasons from now, but what we do know is that the Caps now have two potent scoring lines with the addition of Erat. He was leading the Predators in points at the time of the trade, which will be vital in the postseason.
So, again, the question is, what end result would justify jettisoning Sweden's captain at the 2012 World Junior Championships?
Quite simply, at a minimum, the Capitals need to reach Round 2, but even then, it still doesn't make sense because Washington's been that far in three of the last four years.
It's difficult to label a clear-cut winner or loser in this deal because while Forsberg projects to be an outstanding NHL player, until he proves himself in the world's best league, who can say with certainty that he'll be a better player than Erat within the next two or three years?
One can't, and that's no knock on Forsberg, who is clearly one of the most promising up-and-coming prospects in the game. It's just that Erat already is a top-six (maybe even top-line) forward.
And one cannot forget that Erat put up 58 points last season on a Nashville team that wasn't even remotely close to being labeled as an offensive juggernaut.
With the Caps, Erat would look good riding shotgun to Mike Ribeiro on the second line or even up with dynamic duo of Backstrom and Ovechkin on the first unit.
In addition, Erat's presence on the power play unit will breathe life into the second unit, as the two-time Czech Olympian potted 12 goals with the extra man between 2010-11 and 2011-12.
No, Erat won't be as good for as long as Forsberg could be, but if McPhee believes this team has a fighting chance at finally breaking through to the Eastern Conference finals, this is clearly the right move.
This under-the-radar move was arguably the day's biggest, and if Washington can continue its late-season resurgence and parlay it into a deep postseason run, both teams will emerge better off as a result of the trade.
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