With the NHL season just a little more than 70 days away, one can safely say that the Pittsburgh Penguins are doing their damnedest to right the wrongs of the previous season. Another disappointing postseason finish, this time capped in a hard-fought five games against the New York Rangers, saw the team have their depth at all positions tested once again and, as before, saw it fail.
So with his personnel decisions questioned heavily as the dust settled, general manager Jim Rutherford has sought to retool the Penguins with a championship-ready offense once again. First, it was Kessel. Then, a litany of sought after Russian forwards were drawn to the Steel City. And now, with a trade sending Brandon Sutter and his $3.3 million cap hit to Vancouver, Rutherford has drawn in a solid third line center in Eric Fehr.
Finding His Role
Coming into the offseason, Fehr stood out as a potential free agent target for the Penguins, as his large 6’4″, 212 pound frame and deceptive shot would make him a versatile power forward presence that the team has lacked for so long. With back-to-back 30 point seasons, including a 19 goal performance this past season, Fehr will already be a more productive offensive player than the man who he will likely be replacing on the third line, Brandon Sutter.
But where the hulking forward will begin to make a real difference is in shot suppression, penalty killing, and physical play with the opposition. Advanced analytics show the difference between the play of Fehr and Sutter is as clear as night and day. Fehr’s to both produce and suppress offense is above-average at the very least, while Sutter’s play on both fronts leaves quite a bit to be desired.
Granted, Sutter finished the 2014-2015 campaign with strong play. His two goal performance in the final regular season game was the entire Penguin offense during that contest and ultimately vaulted the team into the playoffs. He was a well liked player and his knack for shorthanded goals certainly endeared him to many fans.
But the fact remains that on paper, the decision to move Sutter and sign Fehr is a clear step forward. Fehr is bigger, scores more, and defends better. He is exactly what any team would want in a third line center.
How Good Of A Deal Is Fehr?
Fehr was signed to a three-year, $2 million deal. Sutter, who has only one year remaining on his contract but is three years younger than Fehr, is set to earn $3.3 million next season. But Sutter, at 6’3″ and 190 pounds, is hardly as imposing a defensive presence as Fehr. And, as evidenced by their respective advanced statistics, the Penguins have made out like bandits in this upgrade.
Fehr will provide a number of intangibles that Pittsburgh has lacked over the previous few seasons, in addition to a litany of trackable services on both sides of the ice that will elevate the team’s overall play substantially. The addition of Kessel made it clear that the Penguins will have one of the best top-six sets in the league, but tacking on Fehr and Nick Bonino, a center acquired in the Vancouver trade for Sutter, will make the team’s bottom-six one of the league’s best as well.
Will has written for a number of publications, varying from print to digital media. His work has been featured on SI.com, PensLabyrinth, The 405, Metacritic and The Social Humanist. Beyond hockey, he has written on the subjects of music and politics.