A week before the trade deadline, I chatted with Nashville Predators GM David Poile and asked him about his approach this year.
He wasn’t sure yet. He said to check back after his team's game April 2, on the eve of the deadline.
He was only half-kidding, I think.
He was a seller -- kind of.
"I guess that’s fair, but sometimes you have to do things to take the proverbial step backwards to take a couple of steps forward," Poile told ESPN.com on Thursday.
The Preds were just a point out of a playoff spot Thursday morning in the cluster of the Western Conference standings. But two realities were at play before the deadline for Nashville: The Preds have been too inconsistent all season for Poile to be a buyer like he was the year before, when Nashville looked more the part of contender; and secondly, Erat asking for a trade forced his hand to move him.
In a perfect world, I suspect Poile would have just stood pat at the deadline.
"It’s a strange business," Poile said. “Sometimes you actually move forward by subtraction. Sometimes players aren’t quite fitting in, the chemistry isn’t quite there. So I’m looking at this as the right thing to do for our organization today, and I’m very optimistic for the future."
With the unhappy Erat gone, so is that distraction, although I think Poile wished Erat could have lived with waiting until after the season to settle this.
"I gave him 3-4 opportunities to make sure he didn’t feel the grass was greener somewhere else, but that’s what he wanted to do," Poile said. "He still felt he wanted to go in another direction. I was prepared to handle this in the summer versus now, but when the young player [Filip] Forsberg became available I thought it was the right thing to do."
Ah, yes, the young player Filip Forsberg, the Washington Capitals' first pick -- 11th overall -- in last June’s draft.
Judging by social media, Caps fans were none too pleased with seeing the young Swedish center shipped out for Erat and prospect Michael Latta.
And yes, 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.
In the meantime, here’s what happened. McPhee wasn’t going into the deadline thinking he would do anything. But Poile phoned him Tuesday and told him that Erat was available and that the Caps were one of the teams to which the player would waive his no-trade clause. From there, the trade conversation took shape, especially when Poile found out Forsberg was on the table.
Most of the reaction around the hockey world has been to pile on Washington in this deal, but I’m not so sure it’s such a bad trade. Certainly, I believe the Preds made the best of their situation with a player wanting out and getting a highly rated prospect in return. Poile did a great job.
But this could be a win-win deal. Erat is one of those players who, if he were playing in a bigger market all these years, would be more of a brand name. Fact is, the Preds just traded their top offensive forward to Washington. And unlike Jarome Iginla or Jaromir Jagr, Erat is not a rental player. He has two more years on his deal ($4.5 million cap hit). The Caps just got a top-six forward for at least two-plus years. Those don’t grow on trees.
Now, he has to perform, obviously. If he does, we may look back on this deal as not being quite as terrible for Washington as everyone is making it out to be.
One last note
There was a lot of chatter on social media Wednesday before the Caps trade was announced that perhaps they were in on Ryan Miller.
Sources in both organizations told ESPN.com that the Caps and Buffalo Sabres never spoke Wednesday.
That’s certainly not to say Miller won’t be moving this summer; that’s a story for another day. But in terms of the Miller-to-Washington chatter Wednesday? Just not true.