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Capitals part ways with Martin Erat, trade winger to Phoenix

(Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Just over three months since he initially went public with his trade request, Martin Erat and the Capitals have finally parted ways ending an 11-month drama that did little to dissuade the notion that acquiring the veteran winger in a deadline-day deal last season was a mistake.

Washington traded Erat and AHL prospect John Mitchell to the Phoenix Coyotes for AHL prospect Chris Brown, veteran defenseman Rostislav Klesla and a fourth-round pick in 2015.

It’s likely more than many anticipated in whatever deal General Manager George McPhee, who is not speaking with reporters until after the trade deadline passes at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, could engineer to ship Erat elsewhere. But how much impact either player that came back in the deal has with the Capitals is uncertain.

Brown, 23, kicked off his professional career last season after playing NCAA hockey at Michigan and has appeared in 11 NHL games thus far. The 2009 second-round draft pick has spent the bulk of this season with the AHL’s Portland Pirates, where he’s recorded 14 goals and 35 points in 51 games and has size (6-2, 215 pounds) to go with a grinding style of play. He’s yet to fully stick in the NHL, though, and as a right-handed shot he’s one among many on Washington’s organizational depth chart.

Klesla, like Erat, had fallen out of favor with his team. The 31-year-old blueliner averaged a career-low 16:31 of ice time over 25 games this season and was placed on waivers in late November, but not claimed, as the Coyotes looked to groom their younger defensemen. Could Klesla shoulder the responsibility and workload of a greater role? Or was his inclusion two teams swapping players who had run their course with respective teams? Time will tell.

While Klesla has been assigned to the AHL’s Hershey Bears, according to the collective bargaining agreement $2.05 million of his $2.975 million salary cap hit still counts against the team’s cap figure. (Those are full season values.) He will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Meanwhile, Phoenix is happy to have landed Erat.

“We’ve been looking at Martin for a long, long time,” Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said in a news release. “He was really a terrific player in Nashville for a long time… We’re excited to have him.”

Erat recorded two goals and 25 assists in 62 games with the Capitals but the production was never as much of an issue as the reality that the 32-year-old winger never seemed to have a defined role upon arriving in Washington. He had been a top-six fixture in Nashville seeing time on the power play and penalty kill but with the Capitals bounced around the lineup, seeing time on the fourth line to start this year, and saw inconsistent special teams time. Erat felt he wasn’t given the opportunity to succeed in Washington, which is why he asked for a trade.

While it will take years to truly assess how Filip Forsberg pans out in the NHL, there is little doubt now that the decision to part with him, Washington’s second-best prospect, to acquire Erat and AHLer Michael Latta from the Predators last year was shortsighted at best.