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Martin Erat looks forward to healthier 2011-12 season

Aug 10, 2011, 9:00 PM EDT

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Martin Erat, Alex Goligoski, Jamie Langenbrunner AP

There are many wonders in the world of hockey. Off the top of my head, a few include:

  • Alex Ovechkin “only” scoring 32 goals despite playing 79 games during the 2010-11 season. (Don’t bet on that happening again until he’s in his 30’s.)
  • Quietly elite goalie Tomas Vokoun only receiving serious offers from two suitors.
  • Jose Theodore receiving a job as a No. 1 goalie and Ed Jovanovski signing a hefty four-year contract without the use of a time machine.

Those are some mind-melting thoughts, but they’re isolated to more recent times. One bewildering thought that always seems to work itself out – at least to some extent – is: “How are the Nashville Predators actually going to score goals?”

Slim pickings for offense

Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn lead the team in points with 50 and Shea Weber tied Patric Hornqvist for second place with 48 last season. Despite these piddling top-end numbers, the Predators scored 219 goals in 2010-11, more than nine other teams. That being said, the Predators might actually be less potent next season after losing playoff standout Joel Ward and two washed up scorers in Steve Sullivan and J.P. Dumont.

Perhaps Ryan Ellis can swoop in and create some offense from the blueline if he makes the big club out of training camp (or maybe the Predators’ Big Three will be so motivated by contract years that they just won’t allow any goals), but it’s likely that the team will need to scratch and claw for most of their points once again next season. That means the team might need even more from Martin Erat, a player who has produced a steady stream of seasons in the 50-point range. (Which might be more like 60-point seasons in a more wide-open system, but that’s pure conjecture.)

Could next season be a career year for Erat?

From a point per game perspective, the 2010-11 season was the second best of Erat’s nine-year NHL career. He scored 50 points in 64 games (.78 points per game), second only to his .84 rate in 06-07 (57 points in 68 games).

An optimistic Predators fan might hope he can keep up that pace and produce a career-best campaign in 2011-12 if he could manage to stay healthy. Back issues plagued the Czech-born winger last season, but Josh Cooper reports that Erat is feeling refreshed this summer.

“I took a little bit more time off, just to get healed and on the right track,” Erat said. “I’m feeling OK right now and feeling good. Excited for being healthy next season.”

(snip)

So far this offseason, Erat said, he has mostly used lower-body weights in workouts and worked on his “explosiveness.” He also decided to work more on his midsection, in order to make sure the back issues don’t return.

“Right now it’s working for me,” Erat said.

Cooper points out that although Erat’s cap hit is a reasonable $4.5 million, the 2011-12 season marks a peak salary year of $6 million. For a budge-conscious team like Nashville, that means they’ll be expecting Erat’s best. Judging by their roster of gritty but not-so-creative offensive players, they’ll probably need his best, too.

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