Have Washington Capitals Come out on Top in Martin Erat-Filip Forsberg Trade?

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Have Washington Capitals Come out on Top in Martin Erat-Filip Forsberg Trade?
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Martin Erat and Michael Latta (l-r).

To say that I opposed the trade the Capitals completed on April 3, 2013 in which they acquired veteran Martin Erat and prospect Michael Latta from the Nashville Predators in exchange for prospect Filip Forsberg would be an understatement.  

At the time of the trade, my precise reaction was "WTF???!!!," which stood for "Why trade Forsberg???!!!" That acronym was not supposed to have a double meaning. 

Contrary to popular belief, however, I am a reasonable man. So, seven months after the fact, I am ready to reassess the Erat-Forsberg trade to determine if the Washington Capitals have come out on top. 

We can start this reassessment by reviewing the 2013-14 statistics of each player involved in the trade, as all three have seen NHL action this season: 

2013-14 Stats for 3 Players Involved in Erat-Forsberg Trade
PLAYER GP G A P +/- PIM S S% TOI/G
Martin Erat 15 0 5 5 0 0 10 0.0 12:34
Michael Latta 5 0 1 1 -1 7 3 0.0 8:23
Filip Forsberg 10 1 3 4 -8 2 18 5.6 12:22

NHL.com

Let us first discuss Martin Erat.

The 32-year-old native of the Czech Republic asked to be traded from Nashville as the NHL trade deadline approached last season. He also asked to be traded to Washington, according to Chris Johnston of Rogers Sportsnet on Twitter.

But Erat didn't ask to be traded for a prized prospect. And he certainly didn't ask to be traded to a team whose fanbase was looking for a scapegoat for a trade that caught it unawares and left it angry and confused.

But that's exactly what he got.

What's more, a series of events early in Erat's tenure in Washington only fanned the flames of this anger, however misguided it may have been:

  • April 6: Injured in second game as a Capital. Would go on to play only nine of a possible 12 regular-season games after trade, finishing with one goal, two assists and an even rating.
  • May 8: Injured in Game 4 of Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Did not return to postseason play. Finished with no goals, no assists and a plus-one rating.
  • Oct. 1: Opened 2013-14 regular season on the fourth line of forwards. Erat was joined on fourth line by Michael Latta, the very same prospect who was traded with Erat from Nashville. 

The last incident may have been the most painful. At the time, I expressed my frustration by responding to a tweet by Katie Carrera of The Washington Post as she announced the Caps' line combinations for opening night: 

Since then, Erat's line assignments have returned to normal. On Oct. 18, Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com wrote that Erat was being promoted to the second line. Over the last 10 games (a period which began prior to Erat's promotion), the trio of Erat, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer have been the third-most frequent even-strength line combination used by the Capitals, according to LeftWingLock.com.  

Both developments have helped ease the pain of the trade. Capitals fans—myself included—can now see what Erat is fully capable of. The Hockey News provides further insight with its scouting report:

Martin Erat's Scouting Report
Assets: Has offensive creativity and excellent playmaking skills. Has a low center of gravity, tremendous quickness, shiftiness and a flair for spectacular goals. Great in open ice, he can play either wing position.
Flaws: Must do a better job of playing without the puck and not get caught out of defensive position. Could still add more strength in order to better fight off checks and visit the dirty areas on a more consistent basis.
Career Potential: Skilled scoring winger.

The Hockey News

Erat has used his "tremendous quickness" most effectively on the forecheck, a skill that is also complemented by his willingness to take the body. Plus, Caps fans have witnessed his "excellent playmaking skills," including when he totaled three assists against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 19

Finally, Erat has proven to be a valuable member of both of Washington's special teams units. Despite ranking 10th among Capitals forwards in time-on-ice per game (12:34), Erat ranks ninth in power-play time-on-ice per game (0:42) and sixth in short-handed time-on-ice per game (1:23).

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
Martin Erat scoring the shootout winner against Ondrej Pavelec and the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 22.

Any assessment of Erat's performance must bear in mind that the Czech winger is a 12-year veteran who has played in 747 career regular-season games. Therefore, Erat's patterns of productivity are pretty well defined. Case in point: Over an 82-game season, Erat would average 18 goals, 36 assists and 54 points to go with 48 penalty minutes and an average time-on-ice of 16:47, according to Hockey-Reference.com.  

Caps fans know exactly what to expect from Martin Erat. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it definitely sets the ceiling for expectations regarding his performance. 

Next up is Michael Latta

Latta was a prospect at the time of the trade. Now 22 years old, he should still be considered a prospect. In fact, Latta was ranked sixth on the Caps' prospects countdown compiled by Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com on June 22. 

Be that as it may, Latta cannot be considered a throw-in. The Capitals received only two assets in exchange for Forsberg, a player ranked 10th among the Top 100 NHL Prospects of 2012, according to HockeyProspectus.com. From Washington's perspective, nothing it received in exchange for such a valuable prospect can be considered a throw-in. Everything must have some value. 

So what is Latta's value? 

To answer that question, here is Latta's scouting report, according to The Hockey News

Michael Latta's Scouting Report
Assets: A sound playmaker, he is creative with the puck and fairly strong in terms of his lower-body strength and agility. Also has a feisty attitude and two-way game awareness.
Flaws: Could stand to shoot the puck more, so as to keep defenses honest (since he looks to pass first and foremost). Also needs to improve his overall checking ability.
Career Potential: Playmaking center with upside.

The Hockey News

Latta has begun to demonstrate his assets and work on his flaws while tapping into his potential, even in limited action.

First, he showed off his "feisty attitude" on back-to-back nights upon returning to the lineup. On Nov. 1, Latta tried to fight Ray Emery while the Flyers goalie was already pummeling the defenseless Braden Holtby, as Latta attempted to protect his goalie. Alas, referee Francois St. Laurent prevented Latta from doing so. 

The next night, Latta did find an opponent without interference from any officials when he fought Marcel Goc. It was the first NHL regular-season fight for both the Canadian-born Latta and the German-born Goc, with Latta winning 97.7 percent of the vote from 44 voters at HockeyFights.com

The fight occurred only after Latta showed improvement in his "overall checking ability" when he freight trained former Capitals forward Tomas Fleischmann, delivering the hit that Goc took exception to. 

That very same night, Latta demonstrated why he is considered a "playmaking center" with a sweet pass to an activating John Carlson, who finished the job with his first goal of the season and the 100th point of his career. Latta also achieved a milestone on the play, as tweeted by Capitals' Public Relations on Nov. 3: 

 


 

Despite these positive signs, Latta is currently 11th among Capitals forwards in time-on-ice per game (8:23) and fifth on the Capitals depth chart at center, according to The Hockey News. This rookie must make the most of his limited opportunities all season long as he attempts to prove his worth as one of the pieces of this trade. 

In direct contrast to Erat, however, Latta still holds a lot of potential every time he steps on the ice. The Capitals do not yet know all that Latta can do, nor do they know exactly how good he can be. As a result, Latta can act as a wild card in determining who ultimately comes out on top in this trade. 

Don't get it twisted, though. The ultimate determining factor in who comes out on top in the Erat-Forsberg trade is Filip Forsberg

First of all, Forsberg is by far the most-valuable asset in the trade. One way to make that determination is by looking at where each of the three players involved in this trade were selected in the NHL draft: 

Draft Selection of Three Players Involved in Trade
PLAYER YEAR ROUND PICK
Filip Forsberg 2012 1st 11th
Michael Latta 2009 3rd 72nd
Martin Erat 1999 7th 191st

NHL.com

Secondly, and more importantly, Forsberg was the impetus for this trade. Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com explained on April 4, the day after the trade: 

...perhaps GM George McPhee could have gotten more had he waited until the summer to shop Forsberg fully to the league. You see, I believe the Caps were going to trade Forsberg at some point no matter what, internally souring on the prospect, a player they no longer viewed as a top center in the making. Scouts I’ve spoken with have mixed opinions. Some still view him as a top center in the making, at least a No. 2, but others are concerned by his foot speed. The latter is what concerned Washington. We shall see who has the last word here. Forsberg may make the Caps rue the day they dealt him to Nashville. For that, we’ll have to circle back here in three to four years to rekindle this conversation.

Let us delve deeper into LeBrun's comments by quantifying Forsberg's potential so that we can more accurately gauge his performance.

According to his profile at HockeysFuture.com, Forsberg has a prospect talent score of 8.0. This score corresponds to a first-line forward "with definite skill that might be just a cut below elite status, but still possessing All-Star potential." Patrick Marleau, Mike Richards and Jason Spezza are offered as examples of forwards who have also earned a prospect talent score of 8.0. 

John Russell/Getty Images
Filip Forsberg commemorating his first NHL goal on Oct. 8.

Moving on to Hockey-Reference,com, we see that Marleau and Richards have both averaged 0.74 points per game during their careers of 1,179 games and 590 games, respectively, and that Spezza has averaged 1.02 per game during his 624-game career. For an 82-game season, that projects to approximately 61 points for Marleau and Richards and approximately 84 points for Spezza. 

With the prospect talent score as a starting point and these three players as a template, one can project Forsberg to produce around 60-80 points per season. That is, if he were to live up to the original expectations placed on him that McPhee and the Capitals eventually lost faith in. 

To explore this even further, here are three possible scenarios to determine the winner of this trade based on Forsberg's performance on a season-by-season basis over the course of his career. Each scenario will focus on Forsberg's time-on-ice per game as a way of determining his line assignment while also focusing on his points per season. Also included in each scenario is a judgment on whether George McPhee was right or wrong about Forsberg, as a reminder of McPhee's role in the trade: 

Determining Winner of Trade Based on Forsberg's Performance
PERFORMANCE POINTS TOI/G Line McPHEE? WINNER OF TRADE
Excellent 61+ 18:01+ 1st Wrong Nashville
Average 31-60 12:01-18:00 2nd/3rd Right Washington
Poor 0-30 0:00-12:00 4th Right Washington

N/A

At this point, it is too early to make a final determination on which team came out on top in the Erat-Forsberg trade. After all, Forsberg has yet to complete a regular season in the NHL. 

However, the return of Martin Erat to the ranks of the top-six forwards coupled with the steady progress of Michael Latta versus the lack of overnight success for Filip Forsberg have begun to balance the scales, perhaps even moving them in Washington's favor. This is a major development, as the scales seemed to tip overwhelmingly in Nashville's favor the moment this trade was announced. 

Count me among the interested observers who will continue to track Forsberg's progress throughout his NHL career to determine once and for all which team came out on top in the Erat-Forsberg trade. 

Even if he plays for 20 seasons. 

 

Note: All statistics updated through Nov. 5 courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise. 

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