Reassessing Washington Capitals' Season Outlook After the Trade Deadline

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Reassessing Washington Capitals' Season Outlook After the Trade Deadline
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Washington Capitals GM George McPhee.

WTF???!!!

(Author's Note: The initials "WTF???!!!" stand for "Why trade Forsberg???!!!", a hypothetical question posed to Washington Capitals GM George McPhee in reference to the Capitals' April 3 trade of prospect Filip Forsberg. Any assumption by the reader that the initials WTF are intended to signify profanity is a gross miscalculation. The author would never use profanity in reacting to a transaction completed by the Washington Capitals' GM.)

So, general manager George McPhee, why trade Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat and Michael Latta of the Nashville Predators?

"I wanted to help this team now," McPhee told reporters (via NHL.com), seemingly answering the question posed by myself and Capitals fans everywhere.

It's a fair question. For their latest rankings, Hockey Prospectus ranked Forsberg second among the Top 10 Capitals Prospects, and 10th among the Top 100 NHL Prospects. And on December 14, 2012, I wrote that  Forsberg is the prospect the Capitals must hold on to.

Fast forward to April 3, 2013 and three things are clear about McPhee:

  1. GMGM does not read my articles.
  2. McPhee is willing to forsake the future of the franchise for the present day. 
  3. He believes Erat will help the Capitals succeed now. 

But let's forget about the future of the Washington Capitals for a second. McPhee did. So it's certainly safe for us to do the same, right?

Instead, let's take a closer look at  Erat, and in doing so reassess the Capitals' season outlook.

The 31-year-old Erat has 163 goals and 481 points over 723 games in his 11-year career, all with the Nashville Predators. Erat has scored at least 20 goals three times in his career, and at least 15 goals five other times. He has scored 28 percent of his goals and 31 percent of his points while on the power play, and logged 2:41 of power play time on ice per game (PPTOI/G), tied for the second most on the Predators this season (NHL.com).

Harry How/Getty Images
Capitals fans will be holding their breath to see if the Martin Erat trade is worth it.

That's pretty good. But why do the Capitals need his help?

The Capitals are seventh in the NHL with 2.92 goals per game (G/G) and first overall in power play percentage (PP%) at 24.6 percent (NHL.com).

More importantly, Washington is currently 10th in the Eastern Conference standings with 36 points, and is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games. The Caps are only three points behind the eighth-place New York Islanders, with a huge game looming Thursday night with the Islanders at Verizon Center. And the Capitals are only two points behind the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets, who coincidentally have gone 3-7-0 in their last 10 games, losing four in a row.

The Capitals seem to be in good shape, so much so that they did not jettison Mike Ribeiro. A report on the trade compiled by NHL.com attempted to explain McPhee's reasoning for the trade.

Most of the trade deadline chatter about the Capitals centered on them potentially dealing center Mike Ribeiro, who can be an unrestricted free agent in July. Instead, McPhee made a play for a top-six wing and indirectly someone to replace the departed Alexander Semin as a complementary scorer to Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Well that's odd. The Washington Capitals have plenty of "top-six" wings on their roster, especially with the return of Brooks Laich. Things get even more crowded when you look just at right wing, Erat's natural position, keeping in mind that Alex Ovechkin now plays there as well (ESPN.com).

And McPhee already found a scorer to replace the departed Alexander Semin when he traded for Mike Ribeiro during the offseason. Ribeiro is third on the team in goals with 11, second on the team in assists with 24, and tied for second on the team in points with 35 (Capitals.com).

How has the Capitals' season outlook changed after the trade deadline?

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It's a good thing McPhee already has Ribeiro to "indirectly" replace Semin's scoring in the lineup, because Erat can not fill that void.

For Semin's career averages, the former Capital winger scores 0.41 goals and 0.88 points per game.

But for Erat's career averages, the new Capital winger scores 0.23 goals and 0.67 points per game. Furthermore, Erat has scored only four goals this season for an average of 0.11 goals per game, well below his career numbers.

Finally, since the Capitals' ultimate goal this season is to make the playoffs, let's compare the postseason numbers for Semin and his supposed replacement.

In 51 playoff games, Semin has 15 goals and 34 points. That averages out to 0.29 goals and 0.67 points per game.

By contrast, Erat has played 46 playoff games and has eight goals and 23 points. Those numbers average out to 0.17 goals and 0.5 points per game. For all the postseason criticism Semin received while in Washington, he sure looks clutch now.

In closing, the Washington Capitals look to be on their way to the postseason for the sixth consecutive season, most likely by claiming their fifth Southeast Division title over that span. But they would have done so without acquiring Erat and mortgaging their future in the process.

Note: All statistics courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com except where otherwise noted.

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