Theme: “The great source of pleasure is variety.”
-- Samuel Johnson
-- Samuel Johnson
Since the 2001-2002 season, there have been 40 forwards in the NHL who have appeared in 700 regular season games, recorded at least 150 goals and posted at least 450 points. That group includes Washington Capitals forward Martin Erat, who entered the league in that 2001-2002 season. He is not on that list by accident or simply by sticking around. He ranks 32nd of those 40 forwards in total games played over those 11 seasons, but he has averaged more goals per game than Henrik Sedin, more assists per game than Rick Nash, more points per game than Brenden Morrow, more shots on goal per game than Mike Ribeiro or Alex Tanguay.
Except for nine games at the end of the 2013 season, Erat produced his numbers with the Nashville Predators. Only twice in his 11 seasons in Nashville did the Predators finish in the top ten in scoring offense. Only four times did they finish in the top half of the league in goals per game. Nashville built a reputation for being a hard-working, defensive-minded club that did much with meager resources. The Predators did not burn out a lot of light bulbs on the scoreboard.
What Erat has done, largely anonymously, is display consistency in a variety of ways. Over his 11 seasons Erat has appeared in more than 60 games nine times. In those seasons only once has he averaged fewer than 0.20 goals per game and never more than 0.30 goals per game in any season. Only once – his rookie season – did he average less than 0.60 points per game. Since the 2004-2005 lockout he has been a reliable performer on the penalty kill, averaging about a minute per game over 540 games played (and rarely deviating from that average on a year-to-year basis). He has been as reliable (a shade more than three minutes per game) and just about as consistent (only once deviating from that average by as much as a minute in any season) on the power play.
That consistency extends to his power play production. Since the 2004-2005 lockout Erat has averaged 0.20 power play points per game and there was little deviation in his results on a year-to-year basis (0.20 in 2005-2006, followed by: 0.26, 0.20, 0.23, 0.19, 0.23, 0.25, 0.22). Then there is his overall shooting percentage. In no season in which he played in more than 60 games did he finish with a shooting percentage of less than 10.0 percent, and his career shooting percentage of 12.4 percent makes him one of only 32 forwards having played in at least 700 games since he came into the league in 2001-2002 with a shooting percentage of at least 12.0 percent.
Whoa, whoa, cuz… Back up a minute. Sure, he’s been a consistent offensive performer, but let’s not make it sound like he’s been doing it for the 1984 Oilers… or even the 2013 Oilers. Take that whole power play consistency. Not that it matters much, but only once in those 11 seasons you talked about did the Nashville Predators finish in the top ten in power play efficiency (first in 2011-2012). Six times they finished in the bottom third in the league, four times since the 2004-2005 lockout.
The Big Question… How will Martin Erat perform in a system that emphasizes more offense and has more top-end talent on the offensive side of the ledger?
Nine regular season and three-plus playoff games with the Capitals is hardly sufficient to draw any conclusions about Erat’s likely fit or production with this team. That is probably a good thing, given that he was 1-2-3, plus-1 in those 12-plus games overall. However, looking forward the first thought is that Erat will get a look manning the left side on a line with Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer. This is an intriguing combination. Erat is not necessarily the finisher a Mike Ribeiro might have done well with on the left side, but he does have the playmaking ability to allow the new kid – Grabovski – to score goals (something he has done more frequently on a per-game basis than has Ribeiro over the last three seasons).
In the end…
Martin Erat is likely to be the biggest upgrade on the club if he merely reaches his career averages per 82 games on offense (hold that thought on “averages” for a moment). Think back to last year and the second line. At five a side, the left wing that skated more minutes alongside center Mike Ribeiro was Jason Chimera (source: stats.hockeyanalysis.com, even though they have Alex Ovechkin as a left wing). Chimera did not score a 5-on-5 goal playing with Ribeiro all season (all three of his goals came playing alongside Mahthieu Perreault). Next in line on the left side with Ribeiro was Wojtek Wolski. No, that did not work out, either (Wolski had two goals in 94:12 of 5-on-5 time with Ribeiro).
Yes, the characters this year are different – Ribeiro and Wolski are gone; Chimera appears unlikely to get many scoring line minutes – but the point is that a second line with Erat and Mikail Grabovski is likely to be more productive as a second line with Troy Brouwer, even if they are just average in terms of their careers to date.
And, although nothing is certain in life, Erat hitting something close to his career offensive average would appear to settle into the category of “highly likely.” From 2003-2004 through the 2011-2012 season Erat finished each season with between 49 and 58 points. Over his career he has averaged 54 points per 82 games.
The stability might help, too. Looking at his last full season in Nashville in 2011-2012, he mixed things up a bit with his centers. According to stats.hockeyanalysis.com information, Erat played more than 200 5-on-5 minutes with three different centers: Mike Fisher (with whom he spent the majority of his 5-on-5 minutes), David Legwand, and Craig Smith. There is the possibility here that Erat will spend significant amounts of time with Grabovski and Nicklas Backstrom, depending on chemistry issues and the performance of Marcus Johansson at left wing on the top line. That would seem to be more of the sorting out kind of issue that attaches to new personnel.
Any way you slice it, Martin Erat is a player who brings consistency to a variety of areas. It is a consistency that the Caps have lacked intermittently over recent years, especially on their second line. One hopes it will be rectified by the addition of Erat. If so, Caps fans will be pleased, indeed.
Projection: 77 games, 16-38-54, plus-4
Photo: Greg Fiume/Getty Images North America