Martin Erat hasn't spent a whole season with the Washington Capitals yet, but he's already demanded to be traded according to various sources, such as The Washington Post. Among other things, he's unhappy with his playing time and doesn't like how head coach Adam Oates has been using him.
The question goes from "What upset Erat so badly?" to "Where could Erat end up playing?" very quickly now that this information is public. There is no list of potential suitors and no rumors have emerged about specific teams inquiring about the disgruntled former 20-goal scorer, so it's only natural to wonder whether or not Erat could be a fit for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It's important to note that this is just speculation on our part, and this is more of an investigation into the possible pros and cons of Erat in a Penguins sweater.
Reaching Across the Aisle
One of the biggest hangups most would have with a deal for Erat is the fact that the Penguins would be sending assets to a divisional rival. Not only that, but it seems clear that Pittsburgh and Washington will be the two teams the Metropolitan Division boils down to.
Would the Caps be willing to ship Erat to the team they'll likely be battling with for home-ice advantage throughout the rest of the season?
In a perfect world, Washington would likely prefer to trade its disgruntled winger to a team that isn't Pittsburgh, but what if the Pens come knocking with a deal the Caps can't turn down? Ray Shero has shown plenty of savvy when it comes to these kinds of pickups, and it isn't tough to imagine him piecing together an enticing package that would help the Caps recoup the youthful talent they gave up for Erat in the first place.
Even if they did come to an agreement, the cap ceiling would force the teams to make a "money for money deal."
Erat's Contract and the NMC
This would be the biggest obstacle for the Penguins if they tried to hash out a deal for Erat. The forward more or less holds his own fate in his hands because he has a no-movement clause. That fact could either harm or help Pittsburgh's case, depending on what Erat thinks of the Penguins.
If he's giving Washington all of six or seven teams to make a trade with, that limits the options for the Caps and makes it a buyer's market.
Usually when players flex their NMC, it's to prevent a trade to a rebuilding team. If Washington tried to move Erat to, say, the Calgary Flames, it isn't hard to imagine him saying thanks, but no thanks. But in Pittsburgh, he'd have a shot at the Stanley Cup (still) and would have a chance to play alongside some world-class centers.
He wouldn't be a rental, either, as there's still one more season remaining on his current contract, and CapGeek.com lists Erat's salary at $4.5 million. Pittsburgh has just over $2 million in cap space at the moment, which reinforces the idea that the two teams would need to make a money-for-money swap since Washington isn't in a position to retain much (if any) of Erat's salary.
Pittsburgh's Injury Bug
The reason the Penguins have cap space right now is because of the injury bug that's been chewing through their roster this season. They have had a healthy defense for all of four periods and can't seem to maintain their depth at forward.
This has forced the Pens to shake up their lines while looking for quality wingers for both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Malkin in particular has seen a slew of wingers over the last few years and could use a steady linemate like Erat.
While Erat himself is hardly immune to injury, the Penguins could obviously use another possible top-six forward at this stage of the game, and even once everyone is healthy, more scoring depth is hardly a bad thing.
With the recent news that Beau Bennett will be out for the next two-plus months, Pittsburgh's forward group is starting to look pretty dodgy.
Erat's Untapped Potential
It's easy to look at Erat's track record in Washington and wonder why the Penguins would be interested in him in the first place. He's only scored a single goal for the Capitals and hasn't been effective on any line. That isn't all on Erat, though, as Adam Oates has been utilizing him as a bottom-six forward and has drastically reduced his ice time.
In Nashville, Erat would play more than 18 minutes a night as one of their few go-to forwards. So far this year, he's barely averaged more than 13 minutes of ice time per game. For a guy that is used to being engaged and seeing a ton of time on the power play, it's not difficult to see why he's struggled to score in Washington.
It also indicates that Erat could be sitting on a bit of untapped potential. If this is a guy that can score 20 goals with David Legwand as his center, what happens when you slot him in next to a guy like Malkin? It's not hard to envision Erat developing into an outstanding second-line option for the Pens.
At What Cost?
Ultimately, the likelihood of a possible swap between the Pens and Caps comes down to Washington's asking price. Since Erat went public with his trade demands instead of keeping things in house, the Capitals aren't exactly in a position of strength in negotiations.
Teams know that the player is disgruntled and wants out of town, pronto.
Would the Penguins be willing to send off another young player to bring in a "win now" piece like Erat? Time will tell, and it'll be interesting to see how things shake down for the Capitals and their irritated player who doesn't like his coach or his captain, regardless of a potential landing spot in Pittsburgh.