Where were you when the Washington Capitals traded prospect Filip Forsberg to Nashville for veteran Martin Erat and bottom-sixer Michael Latta? The 2013 trade deadline deal has become one of the most notorious of all-time, with Erat flaming out in Washington and Forsberg ascending to the top of Nashville’s depth chart within two years.
The Capitals’ logic at the time was sound: they were chasing a Stanley Cup, and Erat could help right away. But the execution was off. The deal speaks to the importance of scouting when it comes to the trade deadline – a time when many teams make mistakes.
The interesting thing about the Forsberg trade is there was risk on Nashville’s side when GM David Poile pulled the trigger. The talented winger wasn’t a surefire NHLer at the time. “It takes a lot of stones to trade a high-end player for a player who hadn’t turned out yet,” said one scout. “And of course, Forsberg turned into a superstar. Nashville kinda called Washington’s bluff.”
At the time, Forsberg was playing in Sweden for Leksand, a second-tier squad with designs on promotion to the top league. He was a driving force in that quest, putting up nearly a point per game in a post-season that ended with Leksand earning promotion. The Predators had done their homework, and other teams know Nashville has been strong in scouting Europeans, particularly Swedes. Forsberg had been divisive in his draft year, where a perceived lack of intensity – and a run on defensemen early on – dropped him to the 11th-overall spot. “He was one of those names that tears the (scouting) room apart,” said the scout. Here at The Hockey News, we had him ranked second overall in Draft Preview 2012. Just sayin’.
Getting the right assets in a trade is crucial. Since most deals these days involve a pick and a prospect, a team’s scouts have to be on point, especially during the weeks approaching the deadline. Amateur scouts are prepared to weigh in on the strength of the current draft class (do you really want to give up a high pick this year?) and of drafted junior/college players, while the pro scouts can offer insight on the AHL and NHL.
Pro scouts will have targeted certain players from the start of the season, such as pending free agents, but there’s a book on every guy out there. As the deadline creeps closer, they may focus on a particular player or team if the boss (the GM) is talking to that rival outfit a lot, but it’s also crucial to know your own prospects. Not only that, but it’s important to know how the AHL team’s leadership is, because that can affect any new prospect coming in via trade. “You need to have a firm grip on your pipeline,” said the scout. “And you really have to think about what veterans you have down there.”
Falling in love with your own players can happen. It’s hard to part with a guy who was drafted out of junior and worked his way up. But this is a business. “The more you see a player, the harder you are on them,” said another NHL scout. “Obviously, you develop relationships, but it’s asset management. You’re doing your organization a disservice if you’re not making the right recommendation.”
As for the day itself? Yeah, it’s fun. The pro scouts gather in a war room with the GM and Co. The amateur scouts usually join via conference call. “It can be an intense day,” said the second scout. “You work all year towards it, and you’re much more focused for it. The build-up is great. The actual day is awesome. There’s a million different things going on, phone calls every minute it seems, and you have to have quick answers.”
If you have the right answers, then your team just got stronger for a Cup run or perhaps even laid the foundation for a rebuild that will lead to a title down the road. With the wrong reads, an organization can take a huge step back.
If your team wins the Cup this summer, make sure to think about the scouts who were so instrumental in making it happen.