Fehr, center, celebrates his first goal against the Bolts on Thursday. (Photo credit: Scott Audette)
I was sitting in section 112 of Heinz Field as the rain steadily picked up. It was New Year’s Day, night time, and the Capitals were clinging to a 2-1 lead in the third period of the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. As puddles were forming on the temporary ice sheet, Jason Chimera fired a centering pass to a player streaking down the middle of the ice. A couple seconds later, Eric Fehr had his second goal of the game. Washington won 3-1.
Two years later, things are different. Their coach at the time, Bruce Boudreau, is gone. As is his successor Dale Hunter. The Caps are no longer competing for the best record in the National Hockey League. Right now they’re just trying to stay relevant.
But Fehr got out before all that. When he left the team, they just finished their second straight year being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the number one seed. Fehr had a rough last year in Washington. A victim of nagging shoulder issues (which had previously required surgery) the Manitoba native dislocated his shoulder just two weeks after the marquee match in Pittsburgh, tearing a ligament in the joint. He tried to come back after rehab, but former 20 goal scorer wasn’t the same. In May of 2011, he went under the knife to repair the damage. Two months later, Fehr, a fan favorite, was traded in a salary dump to the newly minted Winnipeg Jets. It was the team — albeit in a different incarnation — he grew up loving as a kid.
Fehr, though, didn’t step on the ice much for the Jets in their inaugural season. His shoulder never fully healed. He would play for a few weeks and then be sidelined again. In 35 games, Fehr scored just two goals. Winnipeg showed no interest in resigning him. He couldn’t get a deal before the NHL lockout.
“It was frustrating because knew I wasn’t at my best, I wasn’t at the top of my game,” Fehr said of his time with the Jets. “I feel like I was more in survival mode.”