Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee said the Capitals had been looking for a top-six forward for a long time, and the fact that the team has suddenly gone from woeful underachievers to vying for a Southeast Division title didn’t really factor into his decision to acquire veteran winger Martin Erat from the Nashville Predators Wednesday afternoon.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Capitals, a team that struggled mightily under rookie head coach Adam Oates when the lockout-shortened season began on Jan. 19, have closed to within two points of the division lead with two games in hand.
"We weren’t going to be sellers," McPhee told ESPN.com Wednesday night after he sent a top prospect, Filip Forsberg, who was the 11th overall pick in last June’s draft, to the Predators for Erat and minor league center Michael Latta.
“We’ve been looking for another top-six forward for right now and for the future,” McPhee said. "He fit the bill."
Erat has two more years left on a contract that will cost the Capitals $4.5 million against the salary cap, although the actual money paid is less ($3.75 million and $2.25 million).
The Capitals and Predators had been in discussions about the trade for a few days and McPhee got some inside intelligence on Erat from a former teammate, Washington forward Joel Ward.
“I talked to Ward about him and he said great things about him as a person and as a leader,” McPhee said.
The Capitals had to give up a talented youngster in Forsberg. But McPhee said that’s the cost of making an important addition.
“As long as we continue to draft well we can continue to do [things] like this,” he said.
The trade deadline period saw much discussion about the path McPhee and the Capitals would chart. Center Mike Ribeiro is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and teams were interested in the talented pivot who would have yielded an attractive package of picks and prospects. But Ribeiro has played well for the Capitals, with 35 points in 36 games, and it’s believed the team would like to keep him long-term. No deal was struck by the deadline.
McPhee said he’d prefer not to talk about the amount of interest Ribeiro received from other GMs and said he’d deal with the team’s potential unrestricted free agents down the road.
“There were a lot of discussions about a lot of things,” McPhee said.