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Martin Erat skating for the Nashville Predators against the Detroit Red Wings in February.
In what can be characterized as an uncharacteristic trade when considering his history, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee dealt away the future for the present, sending promising prospect Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for aging veteran Martin Erat and minor-leaguer Michael Latta.
Initial reaction to the trade -- which was announced nearly two hours after the official 3 p.m. deadline -- was incredibly polarizing. While some praised McPhee for making a gutsy, win-now move, others vilified him for mortgaging the future for a 31-year-old on the verge of the tail end of his career.
Now that the initial fervor has subsided, it is time to look at this trade objectively.
Admittedly, on paper, the trade looks suspect on Washington's end. The 18-year-old Forsberg, selected 11th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, was the team's second-ranked prospect and 21st league-wide in The Hockey News's annual "Future Watch" issue. He was the captain of Sweden's World Junior Championship team, the best under-20 player in his Swedish league this season and figured to be an integral part of Washington's future. As recently as last week, McPhee expressed interest in having Forsberg join AHL Hershey as soon as possible so that he could get a closer look.
Meanwhile, Erat has two years left on a deal that will take up $4.5 million of the Capitals' salary cap, one that will drop from $70.2 million this season to $64.3 million next season. That gives them less maneuverability to sign their top-priority free agents, such as Mike Ribeiro and Karl Alzner. He has been incredibly consistent throughout his 11-year career with eight consecutive seasons of at least 49 points (including five 50-point seasons), but whether he can sustain that as he continues to age remains to be seen (he only has 21 points in 36 games this season, but that was good enough to be tied for Nashville's scoring lead).
But when considering the details of the trade and the players involved, "winner" status seems to drift toward Washington. In Erat, the Capitals fill a season-long need by acquiring a legitimate top-six forward, further balancing a lineup that has been in flux all season thanks to injuries and inconsistency.
On the other side, Forsberg is an unknown quantity (to most, anyway); he scored 15 goals in 38 games in the second-tier Allsvenskan league and history suggests that the average production of first-round picks from either Swedish league as well as first-rounders traded within three years of being drafted don't pan out. At least, not right away.
And, to be frank, if the Capitals' scouting staff unanimously voted to make Forsberg available for trade as McPhee said Wednesday, then there were definitely concerns about his potential and/or development.
So this is the part where I am supposed to make some grandiose opinion about who "won" Wednesday's trade. And here it is: I don't have one.
In a few years, Erat could still be going strong. Or he could be washed up. Forsberg could become a perennial All-Star. Or he could be a huge bust. Time tells all things.
For the time being, Erat strengthens the Capitals now and no team would rather wait to win later.
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