Before the madness of the Stanley Cup Playoffs grips us all, I thought I'd poll the Nashville hockey writing community on the stories which will stand out when we look back on this 2011-2012 Predators season. This series will run over the next week or so, and celebrate events on and off the ice, some momentous, some just plain silly. I hope you enjoy them. Today's selection: J.R. Lind and Robby Stanley celebrate Martin Erat's banner season.
In recent years, Martin Erat had become a polarizing figure to Nashville Predators fans. His salary kept spiraling upward while his offensive totals stagnated, and after his giveaway played a part in the Game 5 Horror in the 2010 playoffs against Chicago, some gave up hope that he'd be anything other than a high-priced burden to a team which was financially constrained.
This season, however, Marty has put together a remarkably reliable campaign, and now stands on the verge of setting career highs. Follow after the jump as J.R. Lind and Robby Stanley pay tribute to the Year of the Marty Party...
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Expectations are a tricky thing in the world of sports -- easy to fall short of, difficult to surpass, but nearly impossible to meet precisely. About five and a half years ago, when I took in my first Nashville Predators game, I came away with the impression that Martin Erat "might be the Preds most dangerous offensive player, with a good combination of speed and soft hands." Naturally, when we see a young guy display that kind of flash and daring in the offensive end, we assume that his abilities and production will only grow over time.
That didn't quite happen, but Erat has nonetheless developed into a leading player on this team, and this year, has delivered the steady production required of a top-line winger.
As Fisher and Kostitsyn have found their touch, Erat, perhaps no longer seeing himself as having to be The Man, has settled into his role as a cog - a still-spinning cog, it should be noted - in Trotz's Rube Goldberg offense, a collection of strange parts that finishes the job even if no one can tell exactly how the whole contraption works.
As the Predators have charged their way into the Stanley Cup conversation, Erat has emerged as one of the team's best forwards - and that's just how it should be for the European.
He's not overwhelming, as he was early in his career, and he's not underwhelming, as he has so frequently been since.
--- Nashville Scene
Of course the point totals are the first indicator we look to when describing Erat's performance this year. But over at Hockey Night In Nashville, Robbie Stanley, with a little help from Shea Weber, described how once you get beyond the raw numbers, Marty's ability to maintain puck control has been a key factor in his (and the team's) success this season:
At 201 pounds, Erat's body type and balance on his skates allow him to be a master of puck possession. His strength on the puck is something that has been a stable factor in his game for several years now, and it's a big reason for his consistent offensive production for Nashville.
"It's what he does. He's a puck possession kind of guy. His legs and core are really strong, and it's tough to knock him off the puck. Obviously, playing against him in practice, guys in here compete with each other and challenge so you get to see for yourself how sturdy he is," Weber said.
That's just a hint at the additional value that Erat provides. He can play on either wing while taking on the other team's best players, and is a pretty fair penalty killer, as well. Simply put, for a coach who likes to deploy specialists in limited roles to best take advantage of their talents, Erat is a multi-purpose player who can provide the support such specialists often need.
When you put it all together, it's safe to say that Erat has quieted his critics with his play this season, one which could change the way we look at his career in Nashville (especially considering the fact that his contract, which has three years remaining, gets more affordable over time). So to cap things off, check out the video from when Marty called in to NHL Live, in recognition of his recent 3rd Star of the Week honors: