Trading Forsberg Will Haunt Caps

Posted April 5, 2013

Filip Forsberg in his heyday as a Cap – at Dev Camp. Photo by Alena Schwarz

During the waning hours of the NHL trade deadline, the Capitals acquired forward Martin Erat and prospect Michael Latta for Filip Forsberg, who is not only one of the top prospects in the Capitals organization but in all of hockey. This trade is a bad one for the Caps, especially in terms of what the future holds.

Before we get started, let’s note that Erat is a great player and one the Capitals are lucky to have. He was arguably the Predators’ best forward and is a guy who consistently scores about 50 points a season. Plus, Erat isn’t a rental; he still has a $4.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons. The problem with this trade has nothing to do with Erat or Latta. The problem is moving Forsberg.

During his press conference yesterday, McPhee talked about the Capitals “win-now” attitude, saying “You’re here to win. We’ve been in that move for a while. This is six years of trying to win a Cup.” He’s right — this team has been trying to win a Stanley Cup for a while now and with zero luck. Fans of the Capitals are starting to grow listless, wondering when it’s time to see their team hoist the greatest prize in sports. They have every right to feel this way. In taking this “win-now” attitude, however, it leaves the organization with a very short-sighted view of things.

Building a franchise requires a delicate balance. You must be able to build the best possible roster while stockpiling a wealth of prospects in order to carry your team into the future. Players get older, injuries end careers, and some players want a change of scenery. It’s important to plan for the future and think ahead a few steps. For example, new signing Nate Schmidt is the Caps’ best defensive prospect (that is if you don’t consider Dmitry Orlov or Tomas Kundratek prospects anymore). You can win a Cup while keeping your key prospects within the organization. McPhee showed yesterday that he will sacrifice the future for winning at all costs. I don’t think that’s such a healthy view to hold.

Reports have come out on Thursday as to why the scouts did an about-face on Forsberg, stating that they “weren’t happy with his foot speed.” In the end, the scouts unanimously agreed that McPhee could deal Forsberg, yet Tom Wilson, the other first-round pick the Capitals had in last year’s draft, was not to be touched. If Forsberg’s foot speed was such an issue, why wasn’t it an issue less than a year ago when he was drafted? He’s 18 years old and still needs to develop. At a minimum, let him spend some time in Hershey and see where he stacks up against North American competition. My other question: What made Wilson “untouchable?” Was it the fact that he’s a physical forward? If the comparison is being made between Forsberg and Wilson, there’s no question Forsberg is the more skilled player.

The other issue I have is with the salary cap. With it shrinking to $64.3 million next season, the $4.5 million cap hit that makes Erat a non-rental is also the same hit that makes it tough to sign other players. That means Mike Ribeiro, who currently has a $5 million cap hit and is looking for a pay raise, likely won’t be back, because that money goes to Erat instead. Other players need new contracts, such as Marcus Johansson, Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, Karl Alzner, Tomas Kundratek, and Michal Neuvirth. One option McPhee could take is to buy out Jeff Schultz. While his $2.75 million hit automatically becomes available when that happens, I don’t know if there’s going to be enough money to re-sign these players. McPhee may have overreached this time and there’s going to be serious consequences if so.

I want to be proved wrong and I want to see the Cup come to America’s Capital. However, I think this trade will go down as one of the worst in McPhee’s career and it may cost him his job.