Erat out to erase doubts about taking his game to a new level

Friday, October 2, 2009 at 3:16am

Martin Erat

Coach Barry Trotz didn’t wait to hear the entire question, which had to do with Martin Erat’s offensive statistics over the past five seasons.

“The same,” the Nashville Predators’ coach interrupted.

Well, not exactly the same but pretty close to it.

Beginning with 2003-04, the season before NHL owners locked out the players and adopted new rules or adapted old ones to create more offense, Erat has delivered five consecutive seasons in which he has scored between 49 and 57 points.

Using basic statistical analysis, the mean (or middle ground) of those numbers is 53 and the standard deviation is 3.68. Thus there is nothing to suggest that Erat will produce any more than 56.68 points or any less than 49.32 this season.

Trotz, however, has another suggestion — and a not so subtle one at that.

“The good thing is you know the minimum you probably should expect from (Erat),” Trotz said. “The bad thing is that that better not be the maximum. We do need more from him.

“It’s good that he’s consistent in getting the minimum, but he’s got to find his new maximum.”

In a way, Erat is the personification of the 2009-10 Predators, who open the season Saturday in Dallas (7 p.m., Fox Sports Tennessee-Comcast Ch. 28) against the Stars.

Nashville returns its top nine scorers from last season’s team, which scored 207 goals (fewer than all but six other franchises) and missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. This off-season the team garnered no significant additions with a history of producing points in the NHL.

Therefore, somebody is going to have to put up better numbers. Of course, it will help if Steve Sullivan (32 points in 41 games) remains healthy and plays the entire season, but it probably will take more than just that and he’s wearing Number 10.

The hope is that – at 28 years old and with seven seasons of NHL experience– it’s Erat’s time.

“When you come in as a rookie or a second-year player you always can expect something new and you’re still learning the NHL,” he said. “I think I’ve been around long enough to know what to expect and to get ready for what I have to do on the ice. I don’t have to worry about anything else.”

Teammate J.P. Dumont is an example that the current trend can be broken.

Dumont was 28 years old at the end of the 2005-06 season.

At that time, he had five straight campaigns with between 35 and 53 points. In the three seasons since, he has had no fewer than 65. In 2007-08, Dumont set a career-high with 29 goals and last season had a career-high 49 assists.

Erat will open this season in a decidedly offensive role, as a wing on the second line with center David Legwand, a 29-year-old who has had as many as 50 points just once.

“We need a (Legwand) and an Erat to push it to the next level,” Trotz said. “They’ve sort of plateaued here, and we need them to get to the next level if we’re going to be successful.”

Erat said there already is one important difference between this season and recent ones — his health. He had no issues during the off-season or training camp to limit his preparation.

He averaged better than a point per game in three preseason appearances with two goals and two assists, including one power play goal.

“I’m not hurt and I’m so excited,” he said. “ … I’m just so happy I’m healthy. It’s a big season for me. We have a great team and we can make a run in the playoffs.”

He added, though, that the team’s performance could change the perception of his production.

“If I play the same and we make the playoffs, it’s totally different,” he said. “I don’t know what (others) are expecting of me, but I’m the biggest critic of myself. I don’t think anybody can put more pressure on (me) than myself.

“As for myself, I have to produce more and I just have to be a better all-around player.”