The Washington Capitals selected Filip Forsberg with the 11th overall pick in last year's NHL draft, but cashing in on his potential for the Nashville Predators star LW Martin Erat was a stroke of genius.
Considering how long it typically takes for even the most promising of prospects to develop and make an impact at hockey's highest level, the polarizing deadline move made by GM George McPhee was a wise one.
Katie Carrera of the Washington Post documented McPhee's rationale for the swap, which also included acquiring minor league prospect Michael Latta:
You’re here to win. We’ve been in that mode for a while. This is six years of trying to win a Cup...We had our rebuild phase, we sort of rebuilt things on the fly here, but we’d like to continue to make the playoffs while we’re doing it.
It has been just under a year since the Capitals invested such a high draft selection in Forsberg, but the fact that they're willing to part with him already makes the move all the more interesting. Forsberg is just 18 years old, yet Washington is clearly focused on winning right now.
As Carrera's colleague Neil Greenberg points out, players who make the transition to the NHL as first-round picks from Sweden's top-two leagues—which is where Forsberg currently plays—average just 32 points per season in their fourth year.
Clearly Forsberg has a ton of upside, but in terms of upgrading the roster for both the short-term and extended future, keeping him with the option of grabbing Erat would not have been the best move for the franchise.
After a rough start to the lockout-shortened season, the Caps have gotten into the winning habit and now sit just two points outside of the Southeast Division lead held by the Winnipeg Jets.
Erat played on a team in Nashville whose philosophy wasn't geared toward the offensive end of the rink. That helped him develop into a solid two-way player, but this is an unprecedented chance for the 31-year-old veteran to maximize his potential and chase a championship.
The adjustment may be somewhat difficult initially, even if Erat is slated to be one of the top-six forwards for Washington.
Chuck Gormley @ChuckGormleyNHL
#CapitalsTalk Looks like Marty Erat will start on left side with Mathieu Perreault and Joel Ward.2013-4-4 15:03:14
Chuck Gormley @ChuckGormleyNHL
#CapitalsTalk Long day fort Erat. Up at 4 am, 6:30 flight, 9:30 arrival, 10 am practice, 7 pm game vs. Isles2013-4-4 15:04:45
With a supporting cast that will also feature goal-scoring machine Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, who is an outstanding distributor, Washington's offensive attack should have even more depth, fluidity and versatility.
Erat had four goals and 17 assists in 36 games for the Predators, and should only have more golden opportunities given the surrounding talent.
Head coach Adam Oates took a lot of heat for the team's rough start. But with improved health and a 5-1-1 record most recently, it appears he is pushing all the right buttons.
There is little reason that Erat can't emerge as the Capitals' top left winger, since the right side consists of standouts like Ovechkin, Ward, Eric Fehr, Troy Brouwer and Tom Wilson.
If Erat plays to the level he's capable of as a smart, speedy player with good hockey sense that McPhee covets, he has a good chance at providing Washington the boost it needs to legitimately contend for the Stanley Cup.