We’ve established that the 2013-14 season was downright awful for the Washington Capitals, culminating with a failure to make the playoffs. The team’s shortcomings have been discussed in great detail–poor coaching choices, awful defense, weak 5v5 play–but what about its upsides? Specifically, who are the Capitals’ Three Stars of the regular season? Alex Ovechkin and Joel Ward made the cut in that order, but who gets the third and final star?
Third Star: Eric Fehr
Former head coach Adam Oates was notorious for his attention to detail, whether he attempted to alter his players’ sticks or switch their positions. Eric Fehr was subject to both experiments, most notably the latter. As a right wing on a team stacked at his position, Fehr was asked to try playing center for the first time in his pro career.
As a winger-turned-center, Fehr faced a unique set of challenges. He was expected to be a playmaker while taking faceoffs and adjusting to his new defensive responsibilities. The transition wasn’t seamless, but Fehr and the Capitals reaped its benefits. As a center, he was no longer relegated to the press box and posted a Corsi-for percentage of 49.0. On the surface, that number is unfavorable, but Fehr was part of a highly effective line that took numerous defensive zone starts. I previously lauded Ward for the same reason, although Fehr deserves an extra shoutout for his puck-possession efforts at a new position.
Among all Capitals forwards, Fehr ranked fourth in the Corsi department behind Mikhail Grabovski, Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Martin Erat respectively. (Again, consider their zone starts and most frequent linemates.) Yet Fehr’s standout efforts didn’t end there, as his offensive totals (13 G, 18 A) were the second-best of his career. He experienced success on an individual level and relative to his fellow Capitals.
It may seem redundant to name Fehr Third Star after I handed Second Star to Ward. The two have plenty in common and were frequently linemates, but they’re also quite different. Fundamentally, it’s tough to compare a winger to a center (for argument’s sake, let’s dub Fehr a center.) Statistically speaking, Ward trumped Fehr in scoring. Both players were healthy for all 82 games, although Fehr was scratched for nine of those games. They demonstrated versatility, even when assigned roles similar to Ovechkin’s: Ward saw frequent power-play time as a right wing, while Fehr played on the top line when Ovechkin was injured. So what makes Fehr’s contributions unique?
Asked Oates about the third line, he cuts off the question “You mean the first line?” #Caps
— Katie Carrera (@kcarrera) November 13, 2013
For starters, Fehr experienced consistent success at two positions and with multiple linemates. His move to center was dictated by the Capitals’ surplus of players at his position, meaning he was expected to fill in for an injured right winger or tackle the challenges of a center at the drop of a hat. However, juggling both responsibilities had no bearing on his Corsi nor offensive output.
The Capitals’ lack of depth at center may have been a blessing, given that Fehr was able to secure a place on the third line and add to the effectiveness of Ward and Jason Chimera. As the Capitals’ go-to guy, he was thrust into a myriad of situations and consistently performed well, often making his teammates better. While the majority of his ice time was spent with Ward and Chimera, his many linemates included Backstrom, Grabovski, and Troy Brouwer. That Fehr was able to establish chemistry with so many linemates, often for short periods of time, is truly commendable.
Having a variety of linemates means Fehr also saw time on all four lines, with different responsibilities to be fulfilled. Whether he was expected to score or fight board battles, Fehr made an impact on those around him, despite his limited time on ice. Fehr is arguably the Capitals’ most underrated player, and who else is a better fit for Third Star?