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Monday, May 17, 2010

Eric Fehr's Contract

Now that Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee has signed his top priority this offseason in Nicklas Backstrom, he can begin to focus on his other pieces.

Capitals 3rd line right winger Eric Fehr is a restricted free agent this summer.  He made $771,750 last season.  In order to retain his services, the Capitals will have to tender him at least a 1-year Qualifying Offer of 110% of his 2009-10 Salary, which equates to $848,925.  Judging by other forwards around the league, Eric Fehr should be offered a multi-year contract worth quite a bit more than that. 

 #16 Eric Fehr

Fehr's Background
Fehr is a 6'4, 212 pound 24-year old forward from Winkler, Manitoba.  He was a Caps 1st round draft pick in 2003 (18th overall), ahead of many players who have already accomplished quite a bit.  He was a monster for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, posting seasons of 50 and 59 goals after his draft year.  He turned pro in 2005-06, and after uttering his famous quote in Hershey Bears training camp "I only score big goals," he backed it up.  In addition to appearing in his first 11 NHL games, he had a 25 goal, 53 point AHL rookie season in 70 games.  In 19 playoff games, Fehr posted 8 goals and 11 points en route to the Calder Cup, not to mention scoring the Game 7 Overtime winner in the Conference Final.  Fehr was a point per game player in the AHL the next season with 22 goals and 41 points in 40 games and scored 2 goals and 3 points in 14 NHL games.  He ran into back issues the next season (2007-08) that limited him to 11 AHL games and 23 NHL games.  Fehr posted 1 goal and 6 points in the regular season and appeared in his first playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers, scoring a goal in the series.  

Fehr's Last Two Seasons
Fehr suffered injuries to both of his shoulders in 2008-09 and still appeared in 62 games with 12 goals and 25 points.  He was held without a point in 9 playoff games and missed the final 5 games before having double shoulder surgery in the offseason.  In 2009-10, Fehr played 69 games, missing some time early in the season with injury, but was healthy otherwise.  He scored 21 goals and 39 points before posting 3 goals and 4 points in 7 playoff games.

He has a history of injuries, but seems healthy for a change. He is a big winger with soft hands and a lot of potential, but he is buried on the depth chart and isn't the swiftest skater.  He doesn't take a lot of penalties and doesn't kill them, but he is responsible with the puck.

Comparable Players
The comparable players to look at against Fehr are Brooks Laich, Valteri Filppula, Ryan Callahan, and Daniel Paille, all young wingers signed to their current contracts in the past 2 years and that have had some production before their contract years.  I will look at their stats at the time of their contracts. 

Fehr:  178 GP, 36 Goals, 37 Assists, 73 Points, 0.20 Goals per game, 0.41 Points per game
Contract Year:  69 GP, 21-18-39 and 7 Playoff Games, 3-1-4
Preceding Year:  62 GP, 12-13-25 and 9 Playoff Games, 0-0-0

Laich (3 years, $2.07 million per):  233 GP, 36-41-77, 0.15 GPG, 0.33 PPG
Contract Year:  82 GP, 21-16-17 and 7 Playoff Games, 1-5-6
Preceding Year:  73 GP, 8-10-18

Filppula (5 years, $3 million per):  155 GP, 29-25-54, 0.19 GPG, 0.35 PPG
Contract Year:  78 GP, 19-17-36 and 22 Playoff Games, 5-6-11
Preceding Year:  73 GP, 10-7-17 and 18 Playoff Games, 3-2-5

Callahan (2 years, $2.3 million per): 147 GP, 34-25-59, 0.23 GPG, 0.40 PPG
Contract Year:  81 GP, 22-18-40 and 7 Playoff Games, 2-0-2
Preceding Year:  52 GP, 8-5-13 and 10 Playoff Games, 2-2-4

Paille (2 years, $1.125 million per):  120 GP, 23-26-49, 0.19 GPG, 0.41 PPG
Contract Year:  77 GP, 19-16-35
Preceding Year:  29 GP, 3-8-11 and 1 Playoff Game, 0-0-0

Analyzing the Comparables
Daniel Paille has the weakest resume, and when he signed the contract in 2008 he had almost no playoff experience.  He represents the lower end of the spectrum, a baseline from which we can say Fehr will go no lower.  Two years and $1.125 million per is a little cheap for a player of Fehr's ability and production, especially since he was one of the few players to show up in the playoffs.

Valteri Filppula is a reasonably close comparable to Fehr in terms of his regular season production prior to the contract and as a player buried on the depth chart in Detroit, but Filppula also played a major role in winning a Stanley Cup and 5 years is too long for an injury prone player like Fehr, though McPhee may not rule it out. It would appear that the $3 million per season Filppula got in 2008 would represent the top end of Fehr's earning potential on this contract. 

Brooks Laich is probably the closest player to look at and say Fehr ought to get a contract like his.  They play on the same team and for the same GM and were both buried on the depth chart early in their careers.  Laich is more durable than Fehr, more versatile, and is more willing to crash the net, but Fehr is a better scorer and that may tip the scales in his favor to earn more than Laich's $2.07 million per season for 3 seasons signed in 2008.

Ryan Callahan is an intriguing comparable because his contract year is the only one from 2009 among these players.  He wasn't exactly buried on the depth chart, though, playing many minutes on a low scoring team, and only missed one game, showing his durability.  He proved himself to be a fairly reliable player in the playoffs, and his career per game production is similar to Fehr's.  Fehr ought to be able to make a case to earn as much as Callahan at $2.3 million per year.

Final Analysis
Eric Fehr is a good scoring winger, but he isn't particularly versatile.  He doesn't take faceoffs, he doesn't kill penalties, and he doesn't fight, but he does score big goals:  He scored 3 game-winners this season and the Capitals were 16-3-1 when he scored a goal.  He showed himself to be  very responsible with the puck (9 Giveaways to 39 Takeaways), doesn't take penalties (24 PIM), and creates problems for opposing defensemen by drawing penalties.  While not overly physical (40 Hits), he isn't a defensive liability, either, sporting a +18. 

He should fall somewhere above Laich's $2.07 million in terms of his production, but his value to the team may not be quite that high, at least not next season.   If his demands go too high, McPhee may walk away and let someone make him an offer, but that would be short term thinking.  I would think with  #1 and #2 Right Wingers Mike Knuble and Alex Semin becoming unrestricted at the end of this season, McPhee may want to sign Fehr for 3 years and that Fehr would want at least $2.2 million per season, though he is better offensively than Callahan.  He is not a big minute player like Callahan or Filppula, but his production is higher.  As St. Louis Blues coach Brian Sutter said about Brett Hull, I can always get someone to play defense, I can't always get someone to score 86 goals.  I doubt Fehr gets that many, but he is a talented player and with more experience and more ice time, he should post 30 goals. 

Bottom Line
Fehr will likely sign for 3 years and $7 million, perhaps a bit higher, but he will certainly be bound on the upper end by Mike Knuble's $2.8 million.  His playoff production shows he scores when it matters, and you can never have enough players like that on the roster.  McPhee will probably step the money upwards so Fehr stays behind Laich for now and have him earn more money as he takes on a bigger role with the team.

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