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What does trade of Erat mean for future?

Martin Erat was a model of consistency in his 11 seasons with the Nashville Predators and was a key piece to the seven playoff teams. That consistency and value may have gone underappreciated outside of Bridgestone Arena or outside this market, but you could always count on Erat being a stable force in the Predators lineup.

Despite Erat’s trade request, dealing away one of the franchise’s best forward of all-time had to be a tough pill for GM David Poile to swallow. His disappointment was evident when he spoke to the media Wednesday afternoon, soon after he traded Erat to Washington. However, he made the best out of an uncomfortable and unfamiliar situation.

There are a couple positives and negatives to yesterday’s significant trade, and they all involve the future of this Predators team:

Positives

– In regards to acquiring prospect Filip Forsberg in return for Erat, Poile said it perfectly: “In essence we’ve traded a 31-year-old veteran for a 19-year-old high-end prospect. I like that for today and I like that for the future.”

Poile mentioned Wednesday that Forsberg had been among the Predators’ top five prospects on the board for the 2012 NHL Draft. Forsberg was taken 11th overall by Washington, viewed as a steal at the time. The reaction from Capitals followers and around the league tells you that Forsberg has the potential to be a special player in the NHL.

Looking at the big picture, the Predators need a “special player” that they could build around. It’s no secret that the farm system could use an influx of talent, and acquiring a blue-chip prospect like Forsberg in exchange for Erat (and, don’t forget, Michael Latta) is a nice coup.

While at the draft last summer in Pittsburgh, I remember other media types (ones who actually have watched or scouted the prospects) being taken off guard that Forsberg had dropped to 11th overall. Upon seeing that he hadn’t been selected through nine picks, I distinctly remember one draft expert saying emphatically, “How is Forsberg still on the board?”

Forsberg was regarded as a top-five, maybe top-three talent in most pre-draft rankings. With the Predators always in the playoff picture, rarely are they able to grab hold of a highly-skilled prospect like that.

Here is a brief scouting report last summer from ESPN.com’s draft expert, Grant Sonier, who rated Forsberg as his second-best prospect for the draft:

Forsberg has good size with lots of talent and determination to his game. At the U-18s he started for Sweden, and there’s something to be said for having the puck on his stick for long periods of time per shift. There aren’t a lot of prospects that combine his skill and size.

– The other main positive of Wednesday’s trade is what it could lead to in the off-season. Erat’s $4.5 million cap hit, which is a good rate for an experienced two-way top-six forward, is now off the books for the next two seasons. That creates more cap room to make some moves this summer that could help put the Predators right back in the hunt next season.

According to CapGeek.com, the Predators have 13 players under contract for next season for a total of $40.9 million. With the 2013-14 salary cap set for $64.3 million, this gives Poile room to work with. Many teams will be looking to trade or buy out veteran players just to get below cap ceiling, and the Preds could be beneficiaries – just like they were when Paul Kariya signed here in 2005, the first off-season the salary cap was enforced.

Negatives

– In the last nine months, three franchise players have flirted with the idea of leaving town. Two, Ryan Suter and Erat, actually did. Suter signed the big contract in Minnesota, while Erat, who took Suter’s place in the leadership group, requested a trade out of Nashville. Shea Weber signed an offer sheet with Philadelphia last July before the Predators matched it.

Nashville has never been a destination spot for free agents. The league-wide perception hasn’t been aided in the last calendar year, as Suter and Erat have opted to leave while the face of the franchise had thoughts about it.

Erat admitted on a conference call with the Washington media that the decision to move on from Nashville had “a little bit” to do with what took place last summer.

Poile was asked about this topic Wednesday:

“It’s never good to hear that somebody doesn’t want to play for you anymore, and you can’t sugarcoat that,” he said. “That means they don’t believe where you’re going. Having said that, sometimes people need a change.

“Nashville has seen the business side of hockey. We’ve been somewhat sheltered with the type of team that we’ve had and the level of players we’ve had. This is the big leagues. This stuff happens all the time. It’s a business, it’s about money, it’s about their careers and what they can do. I don’t think that represents a trend.”

Whether or not the perception aspect is being overblown, it’s something that needs to be addressed with Weber first and foremost. The Predators can’t afford to let the captain become unhappy in Music City.

– The other negative to this trade goes without saying: The Preds have parted with a valuable player. For the most part, Erat has always been reliable in all three zones. Durability sometimes was an issue, but a healthy Martin Erat made an impact in the lineup. No doubt about it. There were stretches at a time where he was a point-per-game player and he consistently fit right between the 49- and 58-point mark since the beginning of 2003-04.

Without filling the void now left by Erat, coupled with the current injuries, the Predators’ chances of making the playoffs have taken a hit. The one positive out of that is the possibility of finishing with a higher draft pick and being able to select another skilled prospect to go along with Forsberg and enhance the future outlook.

 
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