Theme: “Promises are like the full moon, if they are not kept at once they diminish day by day”
-- German Proverb
Eric Fehr was drafted in 2003, famously one spot ahead of Ryan Getzlaf (famous among Caps fans, at least), and before he would post two consecutive seasons with Brandon in the WHL in which he scored at least 50 goals. Since then, Fehr’s career has been a battle – to overcome injury, to escape the occasional sentences to the coach’s dog house, to find the scoring touch he had in junior hockey. The Caps have had glimpses of the latter from time to time, including once on a famous stage (to which we will return).
But the facts are these – Fehr has not yet played 70 games in a season. He has topped the 20 goal plateau only once, and he has suffered repeated injuries to his shoulders that have cast doubt over his future as a productive professional hockey player (he had post-season surgery on his right shoulder that could render him unready to start training camp in September).
Last season, largely due to injury (he missed 23 games to shoulder injuries and two other for “upper body” injuries), he regressed from his 2009-2010 numbers. And when he was in the lineup, he was not approaching his 2009-2010 scoring rate. In fact, except for a brief spike in production around the New Year – a six game stretch from December 19th through January 8th in which he was 4-3-7, plus-5 – he had a dismal season (6-7-13, minus-5 in his other 46 games).
Again, though, there were glimpses. When he was healthy or fresh, he could produce. Consider this; Fehr began the season with two goals in his first three games. When he returned from his 22-game injury hiatus on March 9th, he recorded a pair of goals in his first game back. He had three goals and five points over four games after missing two of three games (for personal reasons) at the end of December. Those three instances account for 7-6-13 of his total production for the year, covering only eight games of his 52-game season. His overall ten-game splits look like this:
Even with his diminished capacity and limited production, there were glimpses. Among forwards playing in at least half the Caps’ season, Fehr finished fourth in goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (numbers from behindthenet.ca). And he did that largely by being the only goal scorer on what line he played on – he was next to last among that same group of forwards in goals for/on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. Comparing the two sets of numbers, he looks to have done much of the scoring on his line.
He did benefit, however, from the fact that he faced the weakest competition of any Caps forward that played at least half the season with the team (although the quality of competition he faced was comparatively weak as well – fourth weakest among those 11 Caps forwards). Still, he could not muster a level of production level to match what he did last year, in what is now his career year in the NHL:
Odd Fehr Fact… If Fehr could have duplicated his home production on the road, he would have had a nice season. On an 82-game basis, Fehr produced at a 20-23-43 pace at home, 11-6-17 pace on the road.
Game to Remember… January 1, 2011. On the game’s biggest regular season stage, Fehr had what might have been his best game as a Cap. In the 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he had his second two-goal game with Washington (first of two in the 2010-2011 season) – one of them the game-winner, the other a third-period insurance goal (the two goals being scored in a four-shift span for Fehr). He added two blocked shots and was plus-2 for the night, all while playing in less than ten minutes in the Caps’ 3-1 win.
Game to Forget… March 15, 2011. Fehr played in a grand total of 5:16 in a 4-2 win in Montreal. He skated nine shifts , recording only a single shot on goal and one takeaway before departing with an “upper body” injury that would keep him out of four of the next seven games. Starting with that game, Fehr would record no goals and only nine shots on goal in the last eight games in which he played. His season was done, but he didn’t know it yet.
Post Season… Fehr did manage to play in five games and gamely recorded ten shots in the effort (one goal), but by that time his shoulder was likely keeping him from making anything close to a meaningful contribution. And the longer it takes for Fehr to accomplish that feat, the more it seems the chances diminish day by day.
In the end, Fehr had to endure another frustrating season, and Caps fans must wait until the fall to see if his surgically-repaired shoulder (the second time on his right one) will permit him to edge a little closer to the goal-scoring promise he had when drafted. What makes things doubly frustrating is that the Caps have had opportunities on the wing for someone of Fehr’s potential – someone who can finish, either with a nasty wrist shot or swatting home loose pucks from in front. That he hasn’t cashed in on those opportunities seems to be as much a circumstance of injuries interrupting his progress as any deficiencies in Fehr’s game.
Going forward, the Caps will have Alex Ovechkin, Mike Knuble, and Alexander Semin on the wings (well, probably Semin). With Brooks Laich’s future with the team in considerable doubt, the door is nudged open once again for a player with Fehr’s skills. Whether his shoulders are strong enough to push it open the rest of the way is the unsettled question.