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Who is at Fault?

Earlier today, Katie Carrera of the Post reported that winger Martin Erat feels his time in Washington is up and he would like to be traded elsewhere.  The 32-year-old Czech came to the Capitals at last year's trade deadline, along with Michael Latta, for first round pick Filip Forsberg.  Since that trade, each of those players has scored exactly once.  That is a fine number for young players like Latta and Forsberg, but Martin Erat is a proven double-digit scoring threat.  Something has obviously gone wrong here, but the question remains, who is responsible for this disaster?

High-profile players failing to produce on a new team is nothing new.  Too often, it is learned that the player's success was more of a result of circumstances than the player's actual skill.  Caps fans can recall the painful truth we all learned that Michael Nylander's success had more to do with playing alongside Jagr than anything else.  So, naturally, the player ends up shouldering a large portion of the blame.  If Erat consistently put up 50 points on a team like Nashville, why couldn't he do it here?  Maybe he is like another Jagr and just stopped trying.  Even his one goal was more of a right place/right time situation as he redirected an Alexander Ovechkin shot past Scrivens in Toronto for his lone Washington strike last April.  Even his assist numbers are not what they were.  Still, I don't think the blame falls only on Erat in this situation.

When Martin Erat was in Nashville, he was, obviously, one of there best scoring options.  Despite routinely missing 6-10 games per season, he was still able to consistently put up double-digit goal numbers and about 50 points.  As is the case with any team, Nashville played their best scorers a lot.  Last season prior to joing Washington, Erat skated less than 18 minutes only seven times while seeing at least 20 minutes nine times.  Since joining Washington, he has never touched the 20 minute mark, and only touched 18 three times (once this season).

This number continued to deteriorate at the start of this season when Erat was relegated to playing the fourth line alongside Michael Latta and Tom Wilson.  He did not see double digit ice time until the sixth game of the season.  He was eventually taken off the fourth line, and even saw a couple of game on the top line opposite Alexander Ovechkin.  He has since crashed back down, spending the Toronto game as a healthy scratch as punishment for the ineptitude of the second line (although advanced stats will tell you Laich and Brouwer are to blame for that one; also here).  He has also found himself with extremely limited power play chances.  

There is also the bit about Erat's success in Nashville coming from the right side, while Oates continues to use him on the left, but I've spoken enough about that.

I've longed believed Oates' biggest flaw is in player management.  Yes, his top priority must be assembling the team in a way that gives them the best chance of success, but he also is responsible for dealing with the personalities in the room.  Jay Beagle, who was had been a mainstay in the line-up since joining the Caps full-time under Dale Hunter.  He was routinely one of the best faceoff men they had as well as a great penalty killer.  This season, he has played all of five games while youngster Michael Latta, who could see high minutes in Hershey, plays the fourth line.  Then there is Dmitry Orlov, who played 60 games with the Capitals in 2011-2012.  He has been repeatedly recalled and reassigned (he was recalled today), but has yet to play one game.  He typically spends the week practicing with the Capitals and the weekend playing with the Bears (where he has three goals and 14 assists).  All the while, Schmidt and Strachan (who was reassigned today) continue to see time on a defense that is suspect at best.

So, that begs the question of why Oates would go out and get a guy that he doesn't think should play.  Unless, of course, Oates didn't call for the trade, and it was McPhee's plan.  It is not as if McPhee has ever had a knee-jerk reaction at the trade deadline.  Caps fans can still remember the 2010 trade deadline where McPhee acquired such gems as Scott Walker, Milan Jurcina (who had been traded by the Caps earlier and was injured), and the illustrious Joe Corvo.  I will give him credit for Eric Belanger, but he promptly screwed that up in the offseason.  

Those are pretty much all the options.  Either you believe Erat failed to perform here due to his own problems or you feel the management never really gave him the opportunity.  Regardless, here we are.  Barring some miracle that I don't see happening, the Capitals will be forced to move Erat and I can assure you that a prospect like Filip Forsberg will not be coming back.  Who knows, maybe this is just the move the Caps need to bring in some blueline help.  But the fact that last season's trade will be known as the Michael Latta deal will never sit right with me.  

Filed in: | F Street Faithful | Permalink
  Tags: adam+oates, george+mcphee, martin+erat, washington+capitals


TreKronor's avatar

I wonder how much of it is Erat coming from a team where he was one of the best players to Washington - a team with many better players.

Posted by TreKronor on 11/25/13 at 03:22 PM ET

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Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate.  This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals.  The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.

In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at  York College of Pennsylvania.  I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland. 

You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at overtheboard@gmail.com.

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