Seven years for a former seventh round draft pick.
When the Nashville Predators made forward Martin Erat their 12th player selected in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, who could have predicted he would sign the longest contract in the history of the franchise with a total compensation of $31.5 million?
“During negotiations the player wants something and the team wanting to sign him wants something,” said David Poile, President of Hockey Operations/General Manager, for the Predators Monday evening from Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he is watching the World Championships. “Both sides want less or more.
“At the end of the day we made the decision to make the contract for seven years. We think he is a top six forward. We got the player we wanted. He got the contract length and security that he wanted. When that happens it’s a good deal. Both sides are happy.”
Erat, a 26-year-old left wing, last season set career highs in goals and game-winning goals with six. He tied his personal best in points with 57.
He was the NHL’s Third Star of the Week, one week this past season. He also scored his first career hat trick March 4 at Edmonton. He has played in 407 NHL games. He has averaged 53 points a season over the past four seasons.
Erat served as an alternative captain for the last 20 games of the regular season and in all six games in the playoffs.
“At 26 Marty is in his prime,” said Poile. “He has played on the top two lines for us the past couple of seasons. He plays on the power play and on the penalty kill. He gets a lot of ice time.”
Erat, who is playing for the Czech Republic in the World Championships, thinks he can average 70-to-80 points a season. He doesn’t think the contract puts any additional pressure on him.
“I know I can still be better,” Erat said from Quebec City, Quebec. “I can achieve higher goals.”
Erat credits the Predators with giving him the confidence to succeed. Poile points to Erat’s willingness to come to North America and play junior hockey. He played for both Saskatoon and Red Deer before making the jump to the Predators.
“It’s a great honor to sign such a contract with the Predators,” Erat said. “It is a long way from being a seventh-round draft pick.
“At the beginning of my NHL career I didn’t know what to expect. It is a blessing that I was chosen by Nashville. I always have had the skills, but they have helped me build confidence in myself. And I know I can be even better.”
Poile is counting on that. He views Erat as one of the core players for the Predators. That is one reason he chose to sign him to a contract at this time. Center David Legwand signed earlier for six years and $27 million and forward J.P. Dumont is locked in for four years and $16 million.
“His game is still evolving,” said Poile. “I would like to see him get more points and more goals. I would like to see him go to the net more and I would like to see him shoot more.”
Poile also has plans to signed defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, both restricted free agents to similar contracts.
“I don’t know if we will have deals next week or next month,” Poile said. “Marty wanted to stay here long term and so did David. We want to keep the core players here.”
While money is always a way of keeping score, Erat appeared to be most concerned with the length of his pact. Poile could have offered a one-year deal and then waited until after next season to try to a long-term contract when Erat would have become an unrestricted free agent.
“No matter where I played I didn’t want to sign for only one or two years,” Erat said. “I want to be part of something. And with Nashville I can part of a team that wins the Stanley Cup.”