Once the Washington Capitals’ payroll expanded beyond the $64.3 million salary cap ceiling thanks to the signing of rugged forward Troy Brouwer, it became clear that something had to give. While Washington isn’t quite out of the woods yet, they moved to around $63.84 million in cap commitments after shipping Eric Fehr and his $2.2 million salary to the Winnipeg Jets for right wing Danick Paquette and Winnipeg’s 2012 fourth round pick.
A nice boost for the Jets
Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has been wise not to splurge too often on free agent talent, but some might be frustrated with the team’s lack of movement. They probably took a sober look at a very weak free agent field and decided to stay put. That’s not a bad strategy since it’s likely that the Jets won’t run out of goodwill from hockey-starved fans for at least one or two seasons, but some fans probably wanted some instant gratification.
Fehr probably won’t light the world on fire in Winnipeg, but the Jets (then the Atlanta Thrashers) did a nice job with the last first round pick they received via trade with another team who needed to get rid of cap space. That last example would be their current captain, Andrew Ladd, who had a career year with Atlanta after the Chicago Blackhawks completed their post-championship cap purge. Fehr was Washington’s first round pick in 2003 (18th overall) but only 20 points in 52 games in 2010-11 and his career high is just 39 points so far (from 09-10). Fehr should be able to use his substantial size and solid skills in a larger role with Winnipeg than he probably would have enjoyed anytime soon with Washington.
(If the injury-prone winger can stay healthy, that is.)
His $2.2 million salary cap runs out after the 2011-12 season, so he’ll share another similarity with Ladd’s previous season: the crucial motivation that comes with a contract year. Don’t be shocked if he has a career year as a medium-sized fish in a small pond with the Jets. It will also be a homecoming for Fehr, who is from the Winnipeg area.
Capitals might have a little more work to do
The Capitals will probably still need to move a contract or two (unless Tom Poti’s $2.875 million cap hit is erased after he goes on the long-term injury reserve, as some speculate will happen) if the team wants to lock up important restricted free agent defenseman Karl Alzner. Alzner joined forces with John Carlson to form Washington’s young but often very effective shutdown defensive pairing in 2010-11, so he’s probably in line for a nice contract extension.
Paquette is a rugged right wing who was a 2008 third round pick (64th overall) of the Atlanta Thrashers. He scored 20 points and registered 197 penalty minutes in the ECHL last season. It would be surprising if he earned much playing time at the NHL level, but if nothing else, he continues the Capitals’ 2011 summertime trend of adding grit and sand paper to its lineup.
This is an obvious salary dump for Washington. Fehr became expendable after the team added Brouwer and Joel Ward to their noticeably tougher mix. The Thrashers didn’t have to give up a ton to get Fehr, who might be another moderately valuable piece to their rebuilding puzzle. If he doesn’t fit in well, then they only needed to commit a toss-up prospect, a middle-of-the-pack draft pick and one affordable year of salary to him. This move constitutes a small (but potentially lucrative) win for Winnipeg and a survivable, necessary loss for Washington.