For all of those people in Caps land who say that George McPhee is not a risk taker, you have no case after today.
The Capitals GM basically went all in on his current team and perhaps his job today, by moving top prospect, Filip Forsberg (1st round pick in 2012), to Nashville in return for 31 year old winger Martin Erat and minor league center, Michael Latta. After the Caps picked up five points in three road games combined with the collapse of the Winnipeg Jets and the Carolina Hurricanes ahead of them in the Southeast Division, it became pretty clear that McPhee’s team has a great chance to win the division, grab the number three seed in the Eastern Conference, and perhaps get a favorable matchup in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It is a move that could net his owner millions of dollars in playoff revenues which would likely get McPhee and his staff not only a playoff bonus, but a contract extension (it is believed McPhee is in the final year of his current contract). As I’ve blogged recently, most fans focus on the “winning a championship” aspect of sports and are only emotionally invested in those teams. But for those in the game, it is their livelihood and as a result, the short term survival route is often the one chosen over what might appear to be the smarter long term plan.
That is what happened here today with the Caps. Washington needs to make the playoffs from a business and personal standpoint for those involved with the club and therefore, McPhee was going to do whatever he was allowed to do to increase the probability his team makes the postseason. If he doesn’t make the playoffs, there is a very good chance he would no longer be the General Manager of the Washington Capitals next season.
From a strictly hockey standpoint, this trade appears to favor the Nashville Predators. Forsberg is believed to be a potential long term top six forward in the NHL. He was the third forward drafted in the first round last season (11th pick overall) and many felt the Caps hit a “home run” when the Swedish right wing fell to Washington when a run on defensemen occurred at the top of the draft. This player could turn out to be an elite one based on input from people I’ve talked to around the league. Of course, the Caps, having drafted and watched him play quite a bit this season, likely know the ins and outs of the young player that other teams may not know about. In addition, the Capitals also have two talented young forwards already in their system in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson (2012 1st round pick, 16th overall). With Alexander Ovechkin signed long term and Troy Brouwer inked for three more years, the Caps clearly had an abundance of right wings so perhaps in order to get a top six left wing they felt that Forsberg was the best asset to move in order to acquire Erat? After all, you do have to give up something to get something decent in return.
That brings us to Erat, the return on Forsberg (for all intensive purposes Latta is pretty much an AHLer). The speedy and shifty left wing has not had a good year (21 points in 36 games) on a Preds club that struggles to score and it was no secret that Erat had requested to be moved. The question is can he become energized again and produce at a higher level like he did in his previous seasons with Nashville? Washington is banking on that with him likely sliding into the top line left wing spot with Ovechkin on right wing and Nicklas Backstrom at center. Who wouldn’t be energized by playing with those guys?
This trade, unlike some other deadline deals, was not a rental move by McPhee. While they gave up Forsberg, they get Erat under contract for this season and the next two after that at $4.5M against the salary cap. As expected, center Mike Ribeiro was not dealt and he will test free agency in the summer and likely find a higher bidder, so the Caps had to hedge against going down another top six forward.
The question is did McPhee get enough in return for Forsberg in Erat? Based on what I saw in other trades and people I’ve talked to in and around the league, Washington paid a big price for the lefthanded shooting winger.
But the price may not matter, especially if Erat starts scoring playing with Ovechkin and Backstrom and the Capitals win the Southeast Division. In that case no matter what happens with Forsberg long term, it is a success for Leonsis and McPhee. However, if the Caps miss the playoffs while Forsberg turns out to be an elite player down the road, this trade will be pointed to and ridiculed for many years by Capitals fans and those around the game. It would become worse than Jorgen Pettersson for Doug Jarvis, and that would be saying something.
McPhee took a big risk today, no matter how you slice it. But he had no choice since the Caps have to make the playoffs. Standing pat was an even worse option given the lack of depth and the need for a top six forward.
So the general manager did what he had to do individually and for his team. McPhee put himself out there and now his club needs to deliver for him. The Southeast Division and a nice playoff matchup is there for the taking. Adding Erat should be enough to put the Capitals over the top. But if it doesn’t, then you can bet changes will be coming.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on with Drew Forrester on the Morning Reaction at 745am talking Caps and the NHL trade deadline. Listen Live via WNST.NET