Wing returns to team after 18 months away
It was as if he never left.
Traded to the Winnipeg Jets 18 months ago, Eric Fehr found himself back in the familiar confines of Kettler Iceplex on Sunday morning one day after signing a one-year free agent contract with the Capitals worth a prorated $600,000.
The 27-year-old winger skated with teammates both old and new on the first day NHL teams could hold an official training camp practice after the end of the league's four-month lockout.
Fehr previously spent six seasons with Washington, which drafted him in the first round in 2003, No. 18 overall. He helped Hershey of the American Hockey League win a Calder Cup. He scored 21 goals for one of the best Caps' teams of all time in 2009-10 and scored twice in that memorable 2011 Winter Classic against the Pittsburgh Penguins, including the game-winning goal.
"I've definitely had a very interesting career with the places I've been and the injuries I've had," Fehr said. "It's just great that it's led back to Washington."
One of the reasons Fehr was available was because of those injuries. He had surgery in 2009 to repair torn labrums in both shoulders. But he returned to post those career-best numbers in 2009-10 (39 points in 69 games). He later injured the right shoulder again in a Jan. 14, 2011, game against Vancouver and missed 22 games. He returned to finish that season but needed surgery again to repair the right shoulder later that spring.
Fehr, a Winkler, Manitoba, native, was traded July 8, 2011, to his home province Jets, who had just moved to Winnipeg from Atlanta. Washington acquired a fourth-round pick that became Thomas DiPauli, currently a freshman forward at Notre Dame, and forward Danick Paquette, now on injured reserve with ECHL affiliate Reading.
Last season in Winnipeg proved difficult for Fehr, who wasn't ready to play until November and struggled to find a spot in the lineup. He had two goals and one assist in 35 games, averaging just 9:42 of ice time per game. That was his lowest total since his rookie year with Washington in 2005-06, when Fehr was only in the NHL for 11 games.
"A big reason why I wanted to play during the lockout was just to put the whole year behind me," Fehr said. "Now being back here I can almost forget that that year ever happened."
Winnipeg declined to make him a qualifying offer last summer, and Fehr became a free agent. He didn't receive an offer before the league shut down during Sept. 15 and spent the fall and winter playing for HPK Hameenlinna in Finland's SM Liiga. There, Fehr managed 13 goals and 12 assists in 21 games and looked more like his old self. Washington had a pro scout in Europe who caught Fehr there and liked what he saw.
"He said, 'If you don't sign him, somebody else will,'?" Caps general manager George McPhee said. "[Fehr] has always been a goal scorer, and he's been set back by some injuries. But hopefully this is a year where he can come in and score goals."