As the 2013 NHL trade deadline came to a close, Nashville sent Martin Erat and forward prospect Michael Latta to Washington for forward prospect Filip Forsberg.
Washington Capitals receive W Martin Erat and C Michael Latta
Erat is a skilled, hard-working winger who has been one of Nashville's top forwards for the past few seasons. His GVTs from 2009-10 through 2011-12 have been 10.1, 9.8, and 11.9. His GVT has been lower in 2012-13 but bounce back. More on that in the next paragraph.
For the past few seasons, Erat has generally pushed puck possession in the right direction despite logging heavy minutes. He didn't do so in 2011-12, but he can be excused to a degree, facing very tough opponents with a zone start percentage of 41%. While he has taken on hard even strength defensive minutes, he has only played an average amount on the penalty kill. Erat's personal shooting percentage has been 10.0% or higher every season from 2003-04 through 2011-12. This season, it is sitting at just 6.7% through 31 games. Mind you, Erat is more of a playmaker than a shooter, but his finishing skill has been significant. To no surprise, his assists per game of 0.47 this season is right around his career mark of 0.44, while his goals per game of 0.11 is way below his career 0.23. Regression to a more normal finishing rate is likely for Erat, and with that, his GVT should get more towards the 1.5 win range.
The 31-year-old Erat may still be an above-average forward and he is signed at a reasonable $4.5 cap hit through 2014-15. While there is a decent chance that some falloff may happen in his age-32 and age-33 seasons, Erat should remain a good player for the duration of his contract. On a Washington team that has the star power up front, but has lacked depth in their forwards, Erat provides another good player to plug into Washington's top six for the next two seasons. Though the Capitals haven't exactly had trouble scoring goals, some of that is influenced by luck which I'll expand on in the trade summary.
Washington also acquired 21-year-old prospect Michael Latta from the Preds. Latta was Nashville's third round pick in 2009. He has played well this season, and prior to the trade he was third in scoring for Milwaukee, his AHL team. One NHL source described Latta as a "character guy who plays an abrasive style." Going back to his OHL days, he was always known for being an agitator. He is not all about that style of game, though, as he has some skill with the puck. He projects as a bottom-six forward.
Nashville receive RW Filip Forsberg
In Filip Forsberg, Nashville obtained a true elite prospect. The 11th overall pick in 2012, Forsberg was my 10th-ranked drafted prospect last summer and I ranked him 12th before the NHL season started. In both cases, he was the #2 prospect in Washington's system. Forsberg has had a very good season where he was named to the tournament All-Star team at the World Juniors, was named the top U20 player in the SEL-2, and was part of a Leksands team that got promoted to the SEL.
Forsberg is highly skilled, with true plus puck skills and the ability to make defenders miss with consistency. He not only has top-end offensive talent, but also a good power game and a great work ethic. One NHL executive described him as a player who "instinctually seeks out contact" and shows the great effort level to win battles. These attributes help him maintain puck possession with more than just his great one-on-one moves. Forsberg is an above-average skater, although more specifically, he is a quick, powerful skater with about average speed. The only real issues with Forsberg are that he can try to do too much with the puck at times and his defensive game could use a little tweaking.
The 6'1'', 19-year-old forward projects as a first line winger at the top level. He should find himself in the NHL at some point next season, or in 2014-15 at the latest.
Washington received a good player in Martin Erat, a top-six forward through at least 2014-15, and while you can't assume an extension, there is at least a minor chance they can keep him beyond that, although Erat would be getting up there in age by then. For now, Erat may be able to perform at and maybe even above the value of his current contract.
Erat is not as scarce a player as Jason Pominville would be to find on the free agent market, but that's not to say it would be easy to find a player like him. For example, the top left wings who are coming up as unrestricted free agents this summer are Ryane Clowe, Dustin Penner, Clarke MacArthur, and Valtteri Filppula.
Washington also got prospect Michael Latta, an average prospect, who is not of much consequence to the total value of this deal.
Nashville received an elite prospect in Forsberg, who immediately becomes the top prospect in their system. It also provides good balance for Nashville to now get some potential up front as they have stocked up on good young defensemen like Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm. Because he wasn't picked in the top five, Forsberg could provide good value on his entry-level deal due to a lower signing bonus plus several more good years under team control. While prospect development is always an uncertainty, the average prospect of Forsberg's quality provides about 3-4 wins above their contract value in their first seven seasons, and he has the potential to do more. That is of significant value to Nashville.
From Washington's perspective, they gave up a moderate amount of value in this deal, as teams usually do when buying at the deadline, even though this trade isn't a pure rental. Erat should be worth about 3-4 wins during his time in Washington, while Forsberg could reasonably be expected to provide about the same value in cap savings during his first seven seasons. However, the value difference isn't as much of an issue as the timing is. This is the kind of move a contender or near contender makes, and Washington doesn't really fit that description. They don't have a top NHL roster, which is specifically evident on their blue line. Washington is the sixth-worst team in Fenwick close in 2012-13 and league average in 2011-12, a good indicator of their talent level. Though they have been on a good run of late, in all likelihood it is not indicative of their true talent, keeping in mind their team is shooting an unsustainable 10.7%. With the coming realignment, I can understand why they would want to go for it in the last season of a weak division, but the price they paid seemed too high for a chance to get in the playoffs, and if they get in, to probably get knocked out in the first two rounds.
Even though Washington's core players, Ovechkin and Backstrom, are in their primes, trying to "go for it" with an average roster just doesn't seem wise outside of trying to pull in some playoff revenue. This is still a type of move a team like the Blackhawks or Bruins would be in a position to make, not the Capitals. Management principles I'd advocate for are to try and acquire the next wave of good players and build up organizational depth so that Washington can consistently try to be a good team. The likelihood of Washington being a competitor for the Stanley Cup during the time Martin Erat is under contract is not high.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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