Martin Erat has asked the Capitals to trade him, a request he made quite clear on Monday. But until a deal can be struck that would send the veteran winger elsewhere, he’ll remain with the team, practicing and playing when called upon as though nothing’s changed.
“I’m professional, it’s my job,” Erat said. “I’m going to … if I can, to try to play as best as I can, but right now for me it’s just time to look at different options.”
Capitals Coach Adam Oates knows this side of the business well. In the 1991-92 season he asked the St. Louis Blues to restructure his contract and, when they refused, demanded a trade. The Blues sent him on to Boston.
Then in 1997 after being traded to the Capitals, Oates sat out briefly as he demanded the team restructure his contract. General Manager George McPhee obliged and they struck a deal that August for a three-year contract worth roughly $3 million annually.
Those experiences are why Oates hasn’t approached Erat differently since he initially made the request in early October. Until the situation is resolved, everyone involved has jobs to do.
“There’s different reasons. Once it was for money, financially,” Oates said. “We’re pros. It’s a pro job. It’s not college. I’ve said that from Day One. I understand all of the rules.
“The only problem it would ever be would be is if it turned into a sideshow,” Oates added. “He’s not that type of person.”
Winger Joel Ward, who played with Erat in Nashville as well, said he understands his teammate’s decision and doesn’t think of him any differently. He also can see that Erat’s transition from Nashville to Washington and from a top-tier player relied on in all situations to one with a limited role and no special teams time hasn’t been an easy one.
“I respect his decision. It’s his life, obviously, and he wants to play and get after it and win hockey games,” Ward said. “Top-six, top-three, I think, when I was in Nash. Go-to guy. When you come from a situation like that, any human being, any athlete, when you’re playing, when you’re a top, go-to guy on the team, you expect to be doing that all the time.”
How much Erat will play moving forward remains to be seen. The Capitals recorded a season-high 50 shots on goal in Toronto when he sat out as a healthy scratch. Oates and McPhee both acknowledge that they’re still looking for the right mix of chemistry on the forward lines. If the forwards stay healthy, Washington could opt to keep Erat on the shelf to ensure he doesn’t suffer an injury.
McPhee said he doesn’t necessarily feel any need to showcase Erat, given that the 32-year-old is an 11-year veteran and a known commodity in the NHL.
“The other managers in this league are good hockey guys,” McPhee said. “They know players bring and what they’re capable of.”