Sunday, May 31, 2009

The 2008-2009 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Eric Fehr

Eric Fehr

Theme: “…in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come.”

Somewhere in there, there is a goal scorer. Somewhere in there, there is a player who has hands soft enough to gather up passes and quick enough to snap off wrist shots that leave goalies picking pucks from the back of their nets. Caps fans got a glimpse of that with Eric Fehr this year, but only a glimpse. Whether it was a product of ice time (or the lack of it) or failure to grab opportunity by the throat when he did get ice time, Fehr netted only 12 goals in this, his first “full” season with the Caps.

But his ten-game segments are somewhat revealing in a promising sort of way…

Fehr potted nine goals in his last 32 games, a 23-goal pace over 82 games. That’s not bad for a guy who only once in those last 32 games played as many as 15 minutes in a game and who averaged only 11:30 a game in that stretch. Most of that output was earned in games 51-60 (the sixth ten-game segment), when Fehr went 6-4-10, +7. It wasn’t as if he skated a lot more – he averaged 12 minutes a game over those ten games. But, Fehr shot the puck more. He had, by far, his highest shot total of any ten-game segment (29) and his best shooting percentage (20.7 percent).

The statistics are, as they often can be, misleading. Fehr feasted on the Southeast Division this year, going 8-1-9, +5 in 20 games against the weak sisters of the division. Against everyone else, he was 4-12-16, +3 in 41 games. He did not have a goal against a Western Conference opponent in ten games.

On the other hand, Fehr had some rather surprising numbers. Among Caps forwards playing in at least 50 games…

- He had the second best Corsi rating (behind only Sergei Fedorov)

- He was third in goals scored per 60 minutes (Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin)

- He was fourth in total assists per 60 minutes (Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin, Semin, Michael Nylander)

- He led the team in penalties drawn per 60 minutes and tied Brooks Laich for penalties drawn/penalties taken per 60 minutes differential.

- He did this without the benefit of top-end teammates. In the five-on-five quality of teammate measure, only David Steckel, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, and Donald Brashear had lower numbers, a reflection of those four being checking/energy line forwards.

There is a “what happened?” aspect to Fehr’s game this year, and it is reflected in the playoffs. Fehr averaged only 11:14 of ice time for the year, but come the playoffs, it was cut further. In eight full games (he was hurt in game two against the Penguins and did not appear for the rest of that series), Fehr averaged barely eight minutes of ice time a game and only once topped ten minutes (a 4-0 Game 5 win over the Rangers). It is little wonder that his numbers sank to nothing – no points and minus-3 for his playoffs. He netted only 10 shots on goal, none after Game 6 of the Ranger series.

Fehr is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent this summer. With the Caps losing perhaps as many as three forwards – Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov, and Donald Brashear – to Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, there will be room on the team heading into the 2009-2010 season. There will be opportunity to grab a fistful of ice time, and the Caps certainly need a bigger forward who can find the back of the net and play responsibly (Fehr has never been a “minus” player in the NHL in parts of four seasons). Fehr scored 146 goals in 275 games with Brandon in Canadian juniors. He netted 50 goals in 161 games with Hershey in the AHL. He’s demonstrated he can be a goal scorer, even in the NHL in limited time.

What he hasn’t demonstrated is an ability to stay healthy or to score goals on a consistent basis, despite the lack of ice time. We have to think the club will qualify Fehr for next season. Although we’ve been waiting for that player who scored 50 or more goals in consecutive seasons in Brandon to appear here, it might be that his time is about to arrive, even if he’ll never be a 50-goal scorer in the NHL. We’ve been waiting for Godot long enough. He has to show up… now.

Grade: B-

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let's stick him on the second line with Semin and see how he does. They haven't tried those two on a line together yet. Only problem -- Fehr and Semin are both the most logical candidates for Viktor Kozlov's job of first line right winger so who gets that job.

I also wonder why Fehr is almost never used in Penalty killing situations when he seems pretty good defensively.