Erat, 32, was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career Saturday night when the Capitals visited the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the veteran winger’s frustration with the way the team utilized him has been building. The Czech native initially approached General Manager George McPhee to request a trade in early October, while he was toiling away on the fourth line, and he reiterated it again last week.
“It was long coming, starting from the training camp. I never get any chance, any look,” Erat said. “It’s time for me to go.”
Erat has a full no-movement clause in his contract and would need to approve any trade, but McPhee said he doesn’t expect that to be a problem because the winger has been “flexible” and “accommodating” with what teams he would be willing to move to. McPhee said he has been talking to some teams and is working to find a trade.
“We’ve always told our players, and our policy for 15 years or so, if you don’t feel like you fit in, if you feel like it’d be better for your career to be someplace else, let us know and we’ll try to accommodate you,” McPhee said. “I admire him for it. He’s been professional, he came in and he’s not pointing fingers or anything like that. He said, ‘These things happen and it’s not working out for me. I’d like an opportunity someplace else.’ No promises on when it happens. We’ll see how long it takes.”
Washington acquired Erat along with fourth-line center Michael Latta from the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline last season in exchange for forward Filip Forsberg, a 2012 first-round draft pick who at the time was the second best prospect in the Capitals’ system. Erat had asked for a trade from the Predators when it became clear they were in rebuilding mode.
At the time of the trade, McPhee was looking to add top-six forward depth with Brooks Laich out of the lineup because of a lingering groin injury. But Erat’s time in the top half of the lineup has been inconsistent, especially with Laich back in the mix this year. Coach Adam Oates has acknowledged multiple times that he’s struggled to determine where Erat best fits when all the forwards are healthy as well, bringing up questions as to whether it was a shortsighted move.
“I’ve always believed that you’ve got to give your team the best chance you can give it going into the playoffs,” McPhee said. “We were at the deadline, we missed Brooks a lot and didn’t know whether he’d be able to complete the season. We made a deal to help the team because you never know what year it’s going to be that your team advances and goes all the way.
“You want to give your team the best opportunity possible, because you can’t have the guys work their guts out all year and then not help them out at the deadline if there’s something there to help them with. So we made that deal. No regrets. We did what we had to do then, and we’ll do what we have to do now.”
In 13 games with the Capitals last year, including the regular season and playoffs, Erat skated more than 18 minutes twice and recorded only one goal and two assists. When this season began and Washington had a full complement of forwards, Erat played on the fourth line for the first seven games, saw the lowest ice time in his 11-year career and voiced his frustration with the role Oates gave him. Erat saw time on both the first and second line in the 16 other games he appeared in this season, with all of his six assists occurring when he was in the top half of the lineup, but he has played 17 minutes or more only twice all year.
“It’s the way it goes, they just give me straight signal like I don’t fit here,” Erat said. “For me, time to go. It’s black and white. It’s time for me to go.”
Said Erat’s agent, Michael Deutsch: “Marty had the highest of hopes when he was traded to Washington, it was high on his list. He really expected that it would work out based on the talent level of the players in the organization, but for whatever reason it hasn’t worked out. Marty apparently doesn’t fit in and he’d like to move on to a place where he’d be a better fit.”
Erat’s current contract, which carries a $4.5 million cap hit, runs through the 2014-15 season but his salary is $3.75 million this season and $2.25 million the next. Although teams can retain salary of a player in order to facilitate a trade, McPhee said he would not consider keeping any of Erat’s salary in a move.