What's up with Erat, Oleksy, Wilson, Holtby?

What's up with Erat, Oleksy, Wilson, Holtby?
December 6, 2013, 8:45 am
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Caps week in review: 12.4.13

Penn Quarter Sports Tavern Six Pack of Questions

Welcome to our weekly edition of Penn Quarter Sports Tavern’s 6-Pack of Questions, where we aim to keep it real while answering your most pressing questions regarding the Washington Capitals.

Let’s get started.

@TheKlarsh Why is [Marty] Erat still on this team? Seems to be a malcontent. #Caps just need to part ways with him. He doesn't want to be here!

Can’t say I disagree with you. Here’s my take on this. Erat told me during training camp that he wasn’t sure why he wasn’t getting much playing time while Adam Oates experimented with Eric Fehr at center. A few weeks later he asked George McPhee for a trade and when a month went by without a trade he again asked McPhee to be moved. A couple days later he spoke to a Czech reporter about those requests and the cat was out of the bag. Maybe it was a way for Erat to turn up the heat on McPhee, I’m not sure. The bigger question here is whether Erat was ever going to fit in Washington. He’s a left-hand shot who has played right wing his entire career and when the Caps acquired him at the trade deadline they had plenty of depth on the right side with Alex Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward. The Caps wanted Erat to replace Brooks Laich [abdominal surgery] on the left wing but Erat was injured twice last season and when Laich arrived in camp relatively healthy, there eas no room for him in the top six. I can’t argue with Erat’s desire to be traded and as a reporter I can’t fault a player from sharing the news that he’s asked to be traded. Last year, it wasn’t until after he was traded to Washington that Erat revealed he had sought a trade. The fact he went public with his trade demand last week and has gone 25 games without a goal has not helped his cause. McPhee is a very patient general manager and he gave up too much [first-round pick Filip Forsberg] for Erat and Michael Latta to simply give him away. Erat has a no movement clause but McPhee said he is “very flexible” with the list of teams for which he would play. As for being a malcontent, Erat has played well in the two games since returning to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for three games following his most recent trade request. He has declined to comment each time I’ve asked him if anything new has developed with trade talks and by all accounts he remains well respected in the locker room. That said, Erat is 32 and carries a $4.5 million cap hit for this year and next. I’ve been told by more than one NHL scout that there is some hesitation when it comes to acquiring a player with three strikes against him – a lack of production, a fat contract, and a desire to cut ties with each of his last two employers.

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@Bryan_Adams06 I'm OK w giving young guys a chance to get experience, but why has [Steve] Oleksy been a healthy scratch for so long?

Hey Bryan. I addressed this question in this story on the Caps’ defenseman on Thursday, but here’s my take on this. No disrespect to Oleksy, but there is usually a reason a player spends three years in the ECHL before getting a crack at the AHL. I personally like the toughness Oleksy provides on the blue line and I think there are nights the Caps are missing that without him in the lineup. The concern among the Capitals’ coaching staff seems to be Oleksy’s inability to make clean first passes out of his zone. Adam Oates considers those passes the most important in the game because it kickstarts offensive rushes the other way. Oleksy, 27, has been working on that aspect of his game in practices, but the fact the Caps recalled 22-year-old defenseman Patrick Wey does not bode well for Oleksy. With eight healthy defensemen something’s got to give. The Caps are likely trying to move Dmitry Orlov, who has looked pretty solid in his first two games in the lineup, and if they do, Oleksy could find his way back into the lineup. Or, it’s entirely possible the Caps are interested in trading Oleksy, whose toughness could be a valuable asset for a team looking to add that to its blue line.

@capitalspirit Caps 2nd in div, would make p/offs if started 2day. So why's it seem like this season a stinker so far?

It’s ironic I get this question the same day Jason Chimera made it clear to me on multiple occasions that the Capitals are in second place and not last place. Through 28 games the Caps are 14-12-2 and are tied with the Rangers [29 games] with 30 points. That’s 11 behind the first-place Penguins [30 games] and nine behind the last-place Islanders [29 games] in the Metro Division. Here’s where the concern lies. The Caps are just one point ahead of the Hurricanes [29 games, 29 points] and two ahead of the Flyers [28 games, 28 points] and Devils 29 games, 28 points] in the bunched-up Metro. They also rank 13th in the 16-team Eastern Conference in regulation/overtime wins with eight – six in regulation, two in overtime. That’s the first tie-breaker under the playoff format. And because five teams in the Atlantic Division have more points than the Caps, it seems likely the caps will need to finish in the top three in the Metro Division to qualify for the playoffs. Through a third of the season it’s hard to determine whether the Caps are underachieving as a team or if they are slightly better than a .500 team, which could be enough to slip into the playoffs.

MORE: [ Oates on Caps fighting back: 'Talk's cheap' ]

@BradyMac96 What’s your analysis of the decision to keep [Tom] Wilson from the WJC? Given that it has been good 4 jr development?

Good question, Brady. A lot of fans are wondering if Wilson would be better served playing 20 minutes a night for Team Canada than playing 7 minutes a night for the Caps and it’s a valid question. Wilson was hurt when he was one of the last players cut from Team Canada last year and wanted the chance to prove they missed him when they finished fourth in the 2013 World Junior Championships. There’s no question Wilson would have been given a lot of ice time and maybe would have been named a captain of the Canadian team. But by relinquishing Wilson, the Caps would have been forced to play without him from Dec. 11 until Jan. 7. That’s an 11-game stretch of their own schedule, including back-to-back games against the Flyers, and we all know what happened the last time the Caps played them. There is also the issue of the World Juniors being played on the larger ice surface in Sweden and the travel involved going there. Adam Oates believes Wilson is “beyond juniors” and can develop better practicing with NHL players and playing 7 minutes a night than he would playing against other 19-year-olds. I understand both sides of this argument but agree with the Caps’ decision to keep him.

@LukeAdomanis Caps need a move. Any predictions or rumblings in the organization?

I can’t disagree the Caps need a move. Any time you have one player demanding a trade and another player’s agent saying his client has no future with his team it has to have an affect on a locker room, no matter what is being said. I’ve stated this before and it’s far easier said than done, but the Capitals desperately need a solid, reliable, left-handed shooting No. 4 defenseman to play alongside Mike Green. If they had that, their defensive depth would dramatically improve, allowing John Erskine or Nate Schmidt or Dmitry Orlov to play alongside Steve Oleksy, Patrick Wey or Tyson Strachan. The problem, of course, is trying to find a team willing to give up a No. 4 defenseman. Would the Caps be willing to acquire left-handed shooting defenseman Dmitry Kulikov from Florida? Former Bruin and current Winnipeg Jets blue liner Mark Stuart? Vancouver’s Dan Hamhuis would solve that problem, but the Caps would need to offer more than Erat and Orlov. If you’re asking me if I think a trade is imminent, I’d say yes. Just not sure what the Caps can acquire with what they have to offer.

@Gremstitel Do we know if [Braden Holtby playing deeper in his net] is on the advice of Olie [Kolzig]? Or is it maybe a product of worse defense?

Another good question. Yes, Kolzig is asking all of the goalies in the Caps organization to play a foot or two deeper in their nets. Many other goalie coaches, most notably Francois Allaire, have adopted the same philosophy. The theory, which Kolzig explains here, is that by playing deeper the goalies will have a better chance to stop the backdoor passes that have become so prevalent in recent years. The drawback – and we saw this Tuesday night on Jeff Skinner’s second goal – is that by playing deeper, the Caps’ goalies are showing more net to shooters and making themselves vulnerable to “soft” goals. Have the Caps’ goalies made more backdoor saves than they would have last season? I’m sure Kolzig could provide video to show they have. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that those “soft” goals off the rush could be just as deflating as an incredible post-to-post save is invigorating. Regardless, Holtby has to find a way to stop those unscreened shots from the circles if the Caps hope to avoid the pratfalls of Tuesday night.