Less than eight months after being acquired by Washington, Capitals forward Martin Erat, long frustrated over a lack of playing time and clarity regarding his role, has demanded that the team trade him.
"Yes, I want to be traded and we'll see how it goes," Erat said after practice Monday, confirming a Czech news report in which he said that he "[wants] out as soon as possible" after sitting out as a healthy scratch for the first time in his career Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. "Since day one, I didn't get the chance here. I got traded here to be a top-six player, but never got the chance, never played more than 15 minutes in here, and it's time for me to move on."
A top-six fixture during his decade-long tenure with the Nashville Predators, Erat arrived in Washington at last season's trade deadline along with center Michael Latta in exchange for forward prospect and 2012 first-round draft pick Filip Forsberg.
Yet such an opportunity never fully materialized with the Capitals. The 32-year-old, a veteran of 755 NHL games, started this season skating on the fourth line for the first seven games, seeing some of the lowest ice time of his 11-year career. After a promotion to the top six and even the first line, Erat still felt as if though his role with the Capitals was never adequately defined. After averaging 18:55 of ice time per game with Nashville last season prior to the trade, Erat's average plummeted to 13:54 with Washington last season and 13:07 this season.
"It was long coming, starting from the training camp," he said. "I never get any chance, any look. It's time for me to go."
Erat, who has a full no-movement clause and would have to approve any trade, met with general manager George McPhee a couple of weeks into the season to discuss his diminished role and request a trade, reiterating his position last week. His current contract runs through the end of the 2014-15 season and carries a $4.5 million salary cap hit. (His salary is $3.75 million this season and $2.25 million next season, and while teams can retain a player's salary in order to facilitate a trade, McPhee said Monday that he would not consider doing that.)
"Marty doesn't feel like he fits in here," McPhee said, lauding Erat's flexibility regarding his no-movement clause and professionalism throughout the ordeal. "We've always told our players, and our policy for 15 years or so, that if you don't feel like you fit in, if you feel like it'd be better for your career to be someplace else, let us know and we'll try to accommodate you.
"He doesn't for whatever reason feel like he fits in here, so we'll try to accommodate him."
Throughout his short time with the Capitals, Erat was tethered to forward Brooks Laich, whose void as a two-way, top-six forward Erat was acquired to fill as Laich suffered from a lingering groin injury that cost him all but nine games last season. Upon Laich's return, however, head coach Adam Oates struggled to find a place for Erat with a healthy troupe of forwards.
"Coming through camp, Brooksie was back," Oates said. "Last year, when Marty came, Brooksie was out and that was a huge hole. Brooksie was back, so we were having a chemistry issue and we had lots of issues. I've said that from day one. We've got logjams at certain positions that make [for] very difficult decisions."
Added McPhee: “I’ve always believed that you’ve got to give your team the best chance you can give it going into the playoffs. We were at the deadline, we missed Brooks a lot and didn’t know whether he’d be able to complete the season. We made a deal to help the team because you never know what year it’s going to be that your team advances and goes all the way.
"You want to give your team the best opportunity possible, because you can’t have the guys work their guts out all year and then not help them out at the deadline if there’s something there to help them with. So we made that deal. No regrets. We did what we had to do then, and we’ll do what we have to do now.”
McPhee mentioned Monday that he has already been in contact with a few teams regarding Erat's services and did not provide any sort of timetable in regards to when he would like to consummate a trade, but as he searches for a willing trade partner, the Capitals expect for Erat to remain around the team.
"He mentioned that he's going to do whatever he can to be a good player and help us out until something happens," McPhee said. "If we need him, he'll play."
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