Photo Credit: Nick Wass
The Washington Capitals think they have a shot at the Stanley Cup. This season began with a pitiful start under new head coach Adam Oates, but the team is better now. They’re used to his system, they’re healthier, and they’re picking up pieces to help them in the short-term.
“We weren’t going to be sellers,” said George McPhee yesterday. “You never know once you get in. Let’s see what happens.”
“We have a good thing going here,” said Mike Ribeiro. “We know how good we can be.”
“I have complete confidence in the guys in this room,” said Troy Brouwer. “We have the ability in here to make a splash in the playoffs.”
“I want to play for the Stanley Cup,” said Martin Erat. “Washington is one of the places where you have a chance.”
On Thursday, the Caps moved into playoff spot for the first time this season.
The Capitals want to win now. They don’t want to endure another rebuild, albeit a smaller one, that might help win them a Cup in five years — that’s why they traded an elite prospect to fill a hole in today’s lineup. Washington may have been in 10th place in the Eastern Conference when they made the trade for Erat, but they are going for it. That plan, though, requires one thing: that the Capitals are the team they think they are, not the team we’ve seen so far this season. Thursday, they were a little bit of both — not without fault, but good enough for now. With a loss by the Winnipeg Jets (3-7 in their last 10), the Capitals moved in first place in the Southeast Division and third in the Eastern Conference.
The Erat Era — okay, that’s a bit of hyperbole — has just begun in Washington. His debut was solid, if uneventful. He skated on the third line with Mathieu Perreault and former Nashville teammate Joel Ward. Erat didn’t register on the scoreboard, but made a couple nice plays. The Caps beat the Islanders 2-1 in a shootout. Soon he will get a bigger role, perhaps as the first line left wing.
“It’s kind of hard for me you know with all the crazy stuff that comes with the trade,” Erat, who woke up at 4:30 am today, said after the game. “My plane was leaving at six o’clock in the morning which means I didn’t get enough sleep. I was so excited to be here, and excited to be in this city.”
After watching him for a little under 15 minutes on the ice, Erat’s new coach had glowing things to say about his game.
“I thought he did a great job, I really did,” Adam Oates said. “Getting traded is not always easy. He played with that franchise a long time, he had to go out the door and say goodbye, meet new guys, step into a lineup; it’s nerve-wracking, it’s stressful.”
One thing stood out the the first year coach the most: “his IQ.”
“He knows how to play his position, he knows how to play in the game,” Oates added of Erat. “He didn’t put himself in bad positions.”
Erat’s play, though, will not be the judge of this deal. Instead, the move will hinge on what the Capitals do this season and the two after that, the years left on Erat’s $4.5 million yearly contract. If Washington makes a deep playoff run, the deal will seem smart. If they don’t, George McPhee will look short-sighted. For Erat’s perspective, it’s the same. He didn’t request a trade to play in a bigger market or get more ice time, he came here because he thought the Caps were an elite team.
“That’s why I came here, that was my goal, to come here and play for the Stanley Cup,” Erat said.