To say that Washington Capitals forward Martin Erat's season has been frustrating might be an understatement. The 12-year-veteran has yet to score (though his 21 assists without a goal would set an NHL single-season record for forwards if the season were to end today) and a lack of clarity regarding his role led him to publicly ask for a trade in November, a request that has gone unfulfilled.
Yet Erat received some good news on Tuesday when it was announced that he will replace injured St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka on the Czech Republic roster for the upcoming Winter Olympics.
"It's always nice to play for your national team, especially in as big a tournament as Olympics are," said Erat, who will make his third Olympic appearance. "It's going to be nice to change scenarios for a while and hope [we] get something done there."
According to Czech Republic coach Alois Hadamczik, Erat was the most logical choice to replace Sobotka, who injured his left leg this past weekend.
"We've counted with Vladimir Sobotka as a top two-way forward, he is extraordinary on defense," Hadamczik said. "After he got injured, we had to find similar kind of a player and Martin Erat is best in defense among all candidates."
The unexpected invitation (perhaps in more ways than one considering his season to date) came at an interesting time for Erat, who is expecting his second child with wife Vera on Feb. 25, two days after the gold-medal game in Sochi. The 32-year-old, however, did not hesitate when asked to join the Olympic team.
“I hope everything’s going to go as was planned. ... I just have to hope my wife is going to be as calm as it gets and hopefully we’ll get to the baby after,” Erat said. “You can look at it as you’re selfish or whatever. It’s maybe my last tournament that I can play in the big scenarios like this. It’s a huge tournament. Maybe in two months, four months I would be disgusted with myself because I didn’t go. I’m going to be spending [time] with my daughter every single day after that. I hope everybody understands that for me the Olympics are something special.”
As for his play on the ice, Erat, who was a healthy scratch five times in January, has recently been provided with the kind of opportunity that he expected to receive upon his arrival from the Nashville Predators last season.
With injuries beginning to mount among Washington's forwards, Erat has been skating alongside fellow Olympians Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the first line and will do so again on Tuesday against the New York Islanders. That, plus a two-week hiatus from his uneasy situation with the Capitals, may serve to rejuvenate him.
“His job is to be professional about it but in saying that it’s hard every day mentally. I think it affected him at times," coach Adam Oates said, referring to Erat's unhappiness in Washington. "I know I talked to his agent about two weeks ago and talked to him about in terms of no matter what happens, he’s got to try and be as emotionally involved in every game that you can.
"As good a player as you are, no matter how good you are as a player you still got to – you can’t go through the motions. You think you show up, you work hard you still got to have some emotion into the game to be successful. I think in the last 10 days or so, especially, his game has picked up and because of that he got a couple more minutes and then it’s funny how that trickles through.”
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.