So when the deadline arrived, General Manager George McPhee opted not to subtract a single player, but to trade a top prospect and add a top-six winger. The move made the clear statement that the Capitals believe they have a shot at winning in the present, even if this season so far hasn’t gone the way they scripted it.
“You’re here to win. We’ve been in that mode for a while. This is six years of trying to win a Cup,” McPhee said. “We had our rebuild phase, we sort of rebuilt things on the fly here, but we’d like to continue to make the playoffs while we’re doing it.”
Washington traded highly regarded 2012 first-round draft pick Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for veteran winger Martin Erat, who has recorded at least 49 points in eight consecutive seasons prior to this shortened year, and a minor-league prospect, Michael Latta.
Shipping out Forsberg, 18, the organization’s second best prospect, is at odds with what has been McPhee’s long-view approach since the 2004-05 lockout of building through the draft and carefully grooming young players. But in this case, future risk was worth bolstering Washington’s present depth at wing, McPhee said.
“They’re never easy decisions. It takes some guts to do deals sometimes,” McPhee said. “With respect to giving up young players, you’ve got to be careful doing that, but we’ve drafted well enough that we can do it. And I wanted to help this team now.”
Erat, 31, should do just that. The Czech native, who was tied for Nashville’s scoring lead with 21 points, will ideally slot into a top-six role for the Capitals. He has two years remaining on his current contract with a salary cap hit of $4.5 million per season.
Erat waived a no-movement clause in order to join the Capitals, saying he wants to play for a team that’s a contender.
“I was getting older,” said Erat, who could wind up as Washington’s top-line left wing. “I don’t have seven, eight years to wait for another chance.”
McPhee said he “wasn’t interested” in trading any of Washington’s pending unrestricted free agents — including veteran center Mike Ribeiro or gritty Matt Hendricks — because he didn’t believe it would send the message, publicly or to the team, that the goal is to win now.
Those postseason aspirations and expectations are the same things the players hold for themselves. Before the trade deadline passed, several Capitals said they hoped management would show the confidence in the current roster to help it fight for that opportunity.