Wednesday, September 16, 2009

2009-2010 Previews -- Forwards: Eric Fehr

Eric Fehr

Theme: “I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders”

Well, healthy ones, at least. That will be the key to Eric Fehr’s season, whether his off-season surgery on both joints allows him – finally – to taking that big step to being the scoring right wing the Capitals have lacked since… well, it’s been a long time (and no, we don’t count an $11 million point-a-game guy as a “scoring right wing”).

Fehr’s prodigious production at the junior level (11, 26, 50, and 59 goals in four years with the Brandon Wheat Kings) is mirrored quite eerily by his silence as a goal scorer in parts of four years with the Caps (0, 2, 1, and 12 in parts of four seasons with Washington). Yes, there is the injury history, but unfortunately that sort of thing can be rather unforgiving at some point. Is he, can he be, will he be that scorer on the right side?

While Mike Knuble provides a measure of productive potential for this season and next, the thought (not to mention his production in juniors) has given folks in Caps Nation visions of a 30-40 goal scorer in Fehr. Having had his development interrupted by injury, he is at least a couple of years behind in that time line, if in fact he will ever reach that level of production.

But Fehr is not without talent and not without having achieved some measure of production in his short (109 games) NHL career with the Caps. Playing in 61 games last year, Fehr did manage 12 goals (16 on a per-82 game basis, which would not be a bad number for essentially a second year forward with 48 games of previous NHL experience starting the year).

He had two game-winning goals among his number that, while not quite Ovechkinesque (he had 10) was as many as Sergei Fedorov and one more than Nicklas Backstrom.

He was plus-8 for the year, which tied for third among Caps forwards – with Ovechkin.

He did this while ranking 12th among Caps forwards in total ice time per game (11:14) and 12th in power play ice time per game (0:45).

Despite his missing time (21 games) and playing with a couple of bum shoulders, Fehr was a rather efficient player.

Fearless: His relative Corsi rating (accounting for his rating on the ice versus that off) was second best on the team, behind Sergei Fedorov. And, his relative plus-minus to his teammates was fourth best on the club. The four ahead of him – the Alexes, Nicklas Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov – aren’t exactly insignificant hockey players (see cuz, I can do that thing, too).

Cheerless: Somebody once said, “ninety percent of life is just showing up (it was Woody Allen, cuz).” If you’re showing up for less than a third of your team’s games over a four year stretch, well… you ain’t showin’ up. Yeah, yeah, I heard about them injuries, too. My shoulders ache holding your ego up all the time (watch it, cuz…). But the Caps are at the point where they need to know just what they have here. And he’s coming into this year kinda gingerly with that yellow jersey in practice and all that. Maybe that’s a good thing though… save on wear and tear in the early season. Could be he’ll be all rarin’ to go come spring time.

Well, we sure hope so. The disappointing thing about Fehr’s year last year wasn’t so much his not getting a point in the playoffs, or that after getting a game-winning goal against Atlanta on February 26th, he finished the regular season 2-2-4, minus-1 in his last 20 games. It was that over a 13-game stretch ending with that game-winner against the Thrashers, Fehr was 7-5-12, plus-8, and did it all while averaging less than 11:30 a game in ice time. Caps fans saw the kind of production – efficiency and effectiveness – that he could provide.

Looking at Fehr’s last season – 61 games, 12-13-25, +8, at age 23 in his fourth season – you could say it is comparable to that of Bill Guerin’s fourth year in the league (12-13-25, plus-6 in 48 games with New Jersey in 1994-1995). It is also comparable to that of Alexander Korolyuk (12-13-25, plus-2 in 70 games for San Jose in 2000-2001). One became a five-time 30-goal scorer in 17 seasons (twice with at least 40), the other never tallied more than 19 in six seasons.

It might be that Fehr is approaching that crossroads. Let’s hope he has two strong shoulders to carry his career in the right direction.


58 games, 15-16-31, +6

The Duchesne Cup Finale

Yesterday, Group A defeated Group C in the second game of the Duchesne Cup round-robin tournament, 3-2 in a shootout. The standings now look like this...

All that is left is for Group A to meet Group B this afternoon. If Group B wins in regulation, then based on the NHL Gimmick Rules, Group C wins the Cup.


Each team will have one win and one loss. Put 'em all out there for a round of Gimmick.

The Caps had a grand total of four shootout wins last year, good for a tie for 19th in the league. The previous year, the Caps had four wins via the Gimmick, good for another tie for 19th. This is not an especially proficient club when it comes to apres-hockey gimmickry. But it is something the league insists count in the standings, so what better practice could the guys have than getting gimmicky for something that counts? Except Group B has to do its part.


UPDATE: Alas, no Gimmick today... Corey Masisak reports via Twitter that Group A won the Duchesne Cup with a 9-5 plastering of Group B, Alex Ovechkin with four assists.

...puck hog.

2009-2010 Previews -- Forwards: Chris Clark

Chris Clark

Theme: “Welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about...Well the names have all changed since you hung around...”

John Sebastian might have been singing about a former student turned teacher, but the Caps are welcoming back a healthy (we hope) captain to a team that is considerably different from the one on which he scored 30 goals the last time he played more than 70 games in a season.

From the team Chris Clark scored 30 goals for in 2006-2007, only 12 skaters (neither goaltender) remains. And Clark is likely to play a different role on this team (perhaps third line right wing) than he did on that 2006-2007 team (first line right wing). 30 goals on a team that won 28 games and finished with70 points is nice, if not especially important from the broader team perspective. Getting half of that and doing the little things he does to help a team – checking, penalty killing, providing leadership on and off the ice – that could be a critical ingredient in winning a championship.

We’re betting the latter would be more satisfying to the player.

That 30-goal season for Clark is probably going to sit in Caps fans’ minds as something of a standard for Clark if he should complete a reasonably healthy season. It isn’t likely, and here is why. In 2006-2007, Clark netted nine of his 30 goals and seven of his 24 assists on the power play. One would think it unlikely he will be getting as many chances in those situations this year, as Mike Knuble mans the top line right wing spot and probably the top power play unit.

Even the 20 goals he scored in 2005-2006 would seem to be something of a stretch, given that he’s likely to be skating with David Steckel and take-your-pick on left wing, rather than Alex Ovechkin, as he did in that first season spent with the Caps.

Then there is the matter of health. Clark has missed 114 games over the past two seasons. Even if he is reporting in the picture of health, getting 70 games in this season would seem to be a bonus. Frankly, we’d take less, if there were more (as in, “more than the Caps played the last two seasons”) in the post-season. You’re up, guys…

Fearless: Alex Ovechkin is the big hitter among forwards. Whether you think that’s a good thing is a subject for another time. However, last year Clark finished seventh among forwards in hits, despite playing in only 32 games. He has averaged at least a hit a game in each of his four seasons, including the last two abbreviated campaigns (1.3/game over his 202 games as a Capital). He’s also been pretty efficient in the turnover measure overall – 92 takeaways and 93 giveaways in 202 games (although he was on the plus side of that only in his first season in Washington), and he has 81 blocked shots in those 202 games, which is a respectable number for a winger.

Cheerless: Well, as long as your doing that stats thing, cuz, take a look at that stat named for the former football coach (not Lee Corsi, you putz…Jim Corsi). Clark only played in 32 games last year, but the difference between his 5-on-5 Corsi rating on the ice (-4.95) and his Corsi rating off the ice (13.27) was second worst on the team among forwards playing in at least 30 games. That site is really neat, ya know.

Our idiot cousin does raise a point of concern, but there are two things to note about that. First, he compiled that number playing with a lower quality of teammates than all but four forwards for the Caps. And, he was largely crippled by a wrist injury he played through, but which ultimately ended his regular season in January.

Clark’s contributions are not likely to be of the sort that make fantasy hockey fans happy. But they will appeal to old school fans. His ability to play through and around injuries is already the stuff of legend with the Caps… taking a puck in the mouth and having to have his palate rebuilt with the aid of a palate from a cadaver… his taking a puck in the ear from an Alex Ovechkin slap shot, nearly having his ear severed, and coming back after missing nine games.

There has been considerable discussion in Caps Nation about whether Clark should remain as captain. He isn’t as productive as Alex Ovechkin; he might not be the quote machine that is Brooks Laich. But we ask another question, which Cap would you be most likely to follow up a hill into battle? We don’t intend to demean Ovechkin or Laich, or any other Capital for that matter, with respect to the answer to this question. But for our money, Chris Clark is that guy we’d want at our side going into a battle. He does all the little things without announcement or complaint; you get the feeling he’d sell beers at intermission and resurface the ice with a wet mop in his bare feet if it would help get a win.

The question will be whether he is healthy. We’re confident he could contribute on the right side on any of the four lines, but whether he can get 65-70 games has to be considered a question mark given those 114 games he missed over the past two years. Nevertheless… welcome back.


65 games, 11-16-27, even