NASHVILLE – Dating back to 2004, David Poile’s Nashville Predators have always been a playoff contender, which is a testament to the job he and Barry Trotz have done with limited resources. Being a playoff team seven times in the last eight seasons has made acquiring top-end talent through the draft difficult.
That’s why Wednesday’s trade, which saw Martin Erat and a prospect go to Washington in exchange for a promising 19-year-old, Filip Forsberg, is important for the Predators’ future.
Parting ways with a franchise mainstay like Erat was not easy for the Predators’ general manager. The 31-year-old forward played 11 seasons in Nashville and ranks second all-time in the franchise in games played, goals, assists and points.
But fetching Forsberg for Erat’s services is potentially a huge acquisition for the Predators.
"In essence we've traded a 31-year-old veteran for a 19-year-old high-end prospect," Poile said following Wednesday's trade deadline. "I like that for today and I like that for the future."
Though he fell to Washington at 11th overall at last summer's draft, Forsberg was considered one of the draft class' five-best prospects. Poile praised Forsberg's all-around game and some scouts have likened his game and skill-set to Corey Perry.
At his age, Forsberg is an elite talent. Whether or not he fulfills the potential at the NHL level will be determined in time. The Capitals reportedly "soured" on Forsberg, believing he was no longer a top-line forward in the making; perhaps that was their way of defending their decision to trade him.
That said, one could make the case that Forsberg is the best forward prospect the Predators have ever had in their system. If he lives up to the hype, the Predators will have that game-changing forward they've been seeking for a long time.
"We need to be more dynamic with our forwards and [Wednesday] we got a dynamic forward. We got better at forward and that's something we haven't been able to accomplish through trade acquisitions or even in drafting," Poilesaid.
The trade didn't come without disappointment for the Predators, however. They didn't want to deal Erat, but the player surprisingly requested a trade out of Nashville despite his no-movement clause. A trade request from the team's best forward came to some in the Predators' locker room as a shock.
"A lot of guys were surprised for sure. They didn't think a deal like this would come down," Mike Fisher, who spent a lot of time as Erat's linemate over the last two seasons, said less than 24 hours after the trade. "When a guy wants out and he wants to leave - we want guys here that want to play and want to be a part of this team, want to win. That wasn't the case with Marty and you just kind of move on."
"It's never good to hear that somebody doesn't want to play for you anymore, and you can't sugarcoat that. That means they don't believe where you're going," Poile said. "Having said that, sometimes people need a change. I'm disappointed it ended this way but we got a lot of good service out of him."
Erat's trade request falls in line with a troubling trend in Music City. In the last nine months, three long-time Predators have flirted with the idea of leaving town.
Ryan Suter and Erat did in fact exit stage left through free agency and trade, respectively. Captain Shea Weber signed an offer sheet with Philadelphia last July, which could be viewed one of two ways: Either he doesn't want to remain in Nashville the rest of his career or he was making a good business decision to hit the jackpot (14 years, $110 million) before the lockout wouldn't allow him to. The Predators hope it's the latter.
Last summer, Weber's agents stated that the two-time Norris Trophy finalist didn't want to be a part of a rebuilding situation in Nashville. When asked Thursday whether he felt trading Erat for a prospect was a sign of the Predators rebuilding, Weber said, "No. We're in the playoff race and we're in it until the end. I think there are other teams that are right there that are trading guys as well and they're still winning. I don't think that's the case at all."
In Erat's case, it may have simply been a situation where he wanted a change of scenery after playing for over a decade in a Predators uniform. Hockey players are humans, and perhaps he just wanted a new home for his family.
The Predators' acquisition of Forsberg shouldn't be viewed as the start of any sort of rebuild. If all goes according to plan, he will have a spot in the lineup sooner rather than later. And with the departure of Erat's $4.5-million cap hit, Poile has some extra cap room to work with this summer that he didn't have before.
"Do I wish this happened? Absolutely not," Poile said. "But it did happen and we dealt with it and I'm very happy with our scouts and coaches and how we all came together and what we got for the player. Marty was good for us but he didn't want to be here any longer and you have to move on. We're not the first team or the last team that this stuff happens to."