Adam Oates has been in Marty Erat's skates

Adam Oates has been in Marty Erat's skates
November 25, 2013, 5:00 pm
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Caps top 5 plays of the week: 11.25.13

(Associated Press)

Capitals coach Adam Oates has been where Marty Erat is right now. Twice in his playing career Oates forced his team’s hands.

The first came midway through the 1991-92 season when, after being told by the St. Louis Blues that they would not renegotiate his contract, he asked to be traded. The Blues accommodated him by trading him to the Boston Bruins.

The second came in 1997 when, after being traded from the Blues to the Capitals, Oates said he wouldn’t play in Washington unless the Caps renegotiated his contract. He later agreed to finish out the season and renegotiated a new contract with first-year general manager George McPhee that summer.

[RELATED: What should the Capitals do with Marty Erat?]

“I can’t lie,” Oates said. “There’s different reasons. [Mine] was for money. We’re pros. It’s not college. I’ve said that from Day One. I understand all the rules.”

That, as much as anything, is why Oates is allowing Erat to continue practicing with – and if needed, playing for – the Capitals after demanding a trade to a team that will use him more than Oates has this season.

Through 22 games, Erat is averaging 13:07 with the Capitals. Last season in Nashville he averaged 18:55. With no goals and six assists Erat is off to the worst start of his career and on Saturday night in Toronto Oates made him a healthy scratch for the first time in his 12-year NHL career.  

“He came from Nashville playing first power play and he came here and he’s not first power play,” Oates said. “There’s four minutes [a game] right there and they’re quality minutes and that affects production.”

Oates pointed out that Erat also was injured twice last season, missing a week with a knee injury suffered on April 6 in Florida, then getting knocked out of the playoffs in Game 4 against the Rangers when teammate Alex Ovechkin collided with him.

When the Capitals returned for training camp this season, Brooks Laich and Mikhail Grabovski took up spots on the top two lines. When Erat was finally given a chance on each of the top two lines he failed to produce, notching just six assists.

A few weeks into the season Erat quietly went into the office of McPhee and asked to be traded. Last week he repeated the request and on Monday he made it public

“I respect his decision,” said Joel Ward, who played alongside Erat in Nashville for three seasons. “It’s his life He wants to get after it and win hockey games.

“Marty was our top dude when we were in Nash, our go-to guy. When you come from a situation like that, any human being, any athlete, when you’re a top, go-to guy you expect to be given that all the time.”

[RELATED: Neuvirth leaves practice early on Monday]

Oates said that at age 32, he believes Erat still has plenty to give an NHL team. But with a healthy group of Capitals forwards, Oates just doesn’t see Erat getting top-six minutes in Washington.

Once Erat asked to be moved McPhee and Oates could have told him to go home and wait for a trade. They chose not to, at least in part, because Oates said he does not see Erat’s situation becoming a distraction because of the professional manner with which he carries himself.

“The only problem there would ever be is if it turned into a sideshow,” Oates said, “and he’s not that type of person.”

Ward agrees, saying Erat is welcome to practice and play with the Capitals until the team can find him a new employer.

“From a business side of it he wants to play well to attract interest and attract teams,” Ward said. “He’s not going to tank a game or anything like that. If I’m out there with him he’s got my trust for sure.

“When you’re in the game, in the heat of the moment you’re not thinking about anything else. If not, you’re going to be steamrolled by somebody.”