Fehr’s old stall at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the one he used for parts of six seasons during his previous stint with Washington, is now occupied by Jay Beagle. His new digs, on the other side of the locker room, didn’t even have a nameplate yet. Not that Fehr was complaining.
“Feels like a second home to me,” he said with a smile after taking part in Washington’s first official practice of training camp.
The Capitals officially announced Fehr’s signing Sunday afternoon to a one-year, $600,000 prorated contract after trading him to Winnipeg in July 2011 to shed salary. A first-round draft pick for Washington in 2003, Fehr will be counted on to provide depth and General Manager George McPhee said the team would likely have brought him back even if forward Brooks Laich was healthy enough to start the season.
That’s in part because, after battling shoulder injuries throughout his professional career, Fehr had a successful run playing for HPK Hameenlinna in Finland’s SM-Liiga, recording 13 goals and 25 points in 21 games. He never played more than 69 games during his six years in Washington, his best season coming in 2009-10 when he finished with 21 goals and 39 points.
Fehr, 27, said several teams contacted his agent once the NHL lockout ended last week, but returning to the Capitals seemed to be the best fit.
“Looks like he’s gotten over the surgeries and the rehab and he also was playing really well in Finland. And so we thought it’d be a nice addition,” McPhee said. “I don’t believe in bringing anyone to camp if they don’t have a chance to make the team.”
Last year’s trade was supposed to be a homecoming for Fehr, who grew up about 45 minutes outside Winnipeg. But he missed the first 20 games of the season recovering from another shoulder surgery and managed just two goals and one assist in 35 appearances.
It’s why the lockout proved so beneficial for Fehr, outside of the culture shock that came from living in Finland during the winter. “We literally went like a month without seeing the sun,” he cracked.
“Last year I came back before I should have and after that it was just spiraling out of control,” Fehr said. “In hindsight I would have loved to have waited longer and felt a little better but when I’m playing in my home town, the team wasn’t winning, I just wanted to get back in and help out but it didn’t work out.
“A big reason why I wanted to play during the lockout was just to put the whole year behind me. Now being back here I can almost forget that that year ever happened and continue my career here in Washington.”
Fehr’s teammates were also glad to have him back in good spirits. He came up through the Capitals’ farm system with several current players, including Laich and defensemen Mike Green and Jeff Schultz, and won the Calder Cup in 2006 with the Hershey Bears.
The Capitals are hopeful more good memories are in Fehr’s future.
“I felt like I was in survival mode a little bit, just trying to get through every game. Now I’m feeling a lot better,” he said. “I’m happy to be playing hockey and it feels a lot better on the ice when you’re not in pain all the time.
“I’m playing with a lot more confidence right now so hopefully that carries into the season.”