Theme: “Loyal and efficient work in a great cause, even though it may not be immediately recognized, ultimately bears fruit.”
-- Jawaharlal Nehru
There is, perhaps, no more efficient goal scorer in all the NHL than Eric Fehr. Fehr finished the season with 21 goals. Of the 86 players who finished ahead of him in the goal-scoring standings, none had less average time-on-ice than Fehr (12:07), and the closest to him in that regard – Tampa’s Steve Downie and Dallas’ Jamie Benn – skated an average of 14:42 a game.
All in all, not bad for a player who had both shoulders operated on over the off-season (he missed the first four games of the season while completing his rehab), then missed time early on when he sustained a rib injury. He ended up missing ten of the season’s first 16 games. But after that he had a solid season, at least by looking at his ten-game segments…
Fehr’s problem was not so much production as much as it was getting time to produce. Only once in his first ten games – his tenth game – did he get as much as 15 minutes of ice time. It did not get better. Only five times in 69 games did he skate more than 15 minutes, only once in his last 50 games. He had three goals in the five games.
He had a slightly higher goal-scoring pace against Eastern Conference playoff teams than he had against the rest of the league, potting eight pucks in 23 games against the other top-eight teams in the East. Perhaps ironically, Fehr managed to score goals in three of the four games he played against Montreal, four goals in all (he actually played fewer minutes against the Canadiens – 11:24 a game – than his season average).
Despite the limited minutes, Fehr did find himself in the rarified air of the elite rankings in one respect. At 5-on-5, on a goals scored per 60 minute basis, he trailed only Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Sidney Crosby among NHL forwards who played in at least 60 games. And here is an odd statistic – Fehr averaged more assists per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (1.25) than did Pavel Datsyuk (1.23), Ray Whitney (1.23), and Saku Koivu (1.17). And, he had a better plus/minus differential, on ice to off ice (+0.47), than Danny Briere (+0.44), Patrick Kane (+0.42), Anze Kopitar (+0.42), and Dany Heatley (+0.27), among others (according to behindthenet.ca).
Fehr did find himself atop the rankings of all Caps in one area, though, regardless of games played or time on ice received (at least among those who were with the club all season). His ratio of takeaways-to-giveaways (4.33:1) was better than any Cap in 2009-2010. He was seventh on the club in takeaways (39) and had fewer giveaways (nine) than 19 other Caps.
Fehr also had an ability to get shots to the net accurately. Of the nine Caps who recorded at least 100 shots on goal, Fehr had the third best (lowest) percentage of missed shots to shots on goal (37 percent; only Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich were better).
There was one think Fehr was not called upon to do, and that was to kill penalties. No Cap skater who played more than 21 games recorded less overall time on ice on the penalty kill (a total of 34 seconds for the season in 69 games). It really isn’t even close – Alex Ovechkin recorded the next lowest figure, 4:14 of total PK time.
The playoffs were the bitter and the sweet for Fehr. Despite recording only 11:24 a game in ice time, he finished third in total goals scored. Unfortunately, third-best on the Caps this year would be three goals in seven games (Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom each had five). It is arguable that only one of the three goals he scored was consequential. One came in a Game 6 loss (in which the Caps launched 54 shots at goalie Jaroslav Halak and had only Fehr’s goal to show for it with 4:50 left in the game and the Habs with a 3-0 lead), another came as a goal that gave the Caps a 3-0 lead on their way to a 5-1 win in Game 3. He did notch the first Caps goal in the 6-5 overtime win in Game 2. After skating 18 minutes in the series opener, he averaged barely ten minutes of ice time per game for the rest of the series.
Fehr is another of those restricted free agents this summer – the Caps have six in all in addition to seven unrestricted free agents. He, like Tomas Fleischmann, is coming off a cap-friendly contract ($771,750 in cap hit this past season). Fehr and Fleischmann have been fighting for more or less the same roster spot – scoring winger on one of the top two lines – ever since they joined the organization. Given how the Caps seem likely to deploy next season, with the Alexes on the left side of the top two lines and Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich on the other side of those lines, they will be fighting for what might be ice time on a third line that would be another scoring line. Fleischmann has been afforded every opportunity to secure that position, dating back to when he was given a top line assignment in the season opener in the 2007-2008 season under coach Glen Hanlon. Fehr has had a more difficult time getting meaningful minutes and dealing with the occasional gaffe that puts him in the coaches’ doghouse.
But Fehr remains an extremely efficient goal scorer who can play passable defense at 5-on-5. One wonders what he could do with, say, 16-18 minutes a game instead of 12. Were he to remain as efficient a goal scorer (not to mention getting the opportunity to play with better teammates), he could become a reliable 30-goal scorer. It certainly would not be inconsistent with his past – twice a 50-goal scorer in Canadian juniors and 47 goals in 110 games (a 34-goals-per-season pace) in Hershey. Whether his efficiency ultimately bears fruit in Washington or with another team is one of the things to be watching as the summer unfolds and training camp begins next season.