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Eric Fehr signs for three years, $6 million with Penguins

(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post).

Hopping across the Metropolitan Division to join the club he has long tormented, forward Eric Fehr signed a three-year, $6 million contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team announced Tuesday morning.

Fehr’s departure from the Washington Capitals, who picked him 18th overall in 2003 and later re-signed him after trading him to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season, comes as little surprise. After Washington inked goaltender Braden Holtby to a five-year, $30.5 million contract, General Manager Brian MacLellan only had roughly $4.3 million available before reaching the salary cap ceiling, with forward Marcus Johansson currently trending toward arbitration. The Capitals had shown early interest in Fehr, who smoothly transitioned into a full-time, checking-line center over the past two seasons, but had other, more pressing needs to address at the time.

While elbow surgery could sideline Fehr into December, upon returning he figures to fortify Pittsburgh’s depth up the middle, simultaneously boosted Tuesday with the trade for Vancouver’s Nick Bonino. In 75 games last season, Fehr finished with 19 goals, 14 assists and 33 points — all three were the second-best totals of his 10-year career — and won 52 percent of his draws, good enough for 36th in the league. The elbow issue slowed Fehr down during the regular season, he said, and suffering an AC sprain in his shoulder during Game 3 against the New York Islanders knocked Fehr out for the entire 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, until he returned for Game 7 of the second round.

“I really enjoy playing here,” Fehr said in late May. “Obviously, I have a lot of friends here and I’ve been here for a lot of years. I think this is a special group. Obviously, I’d love to be back here. Looking at the amount of guys we have unsigned right now, you just don’t know what’s going to happen. Obviously, that’s going to sort itself out down the road. I love being in Washington, I love this city, so we’ll see what happens.”

In 24 career games against Pittsburgh, including the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field, Fehr has posted 14 points, tied for his most against any other NHL team in significantly fewer games. If healthy, he would return to Verizon Center on Oct. 28 for a Wednesday Night Rivalry matchup. The Capitals don’t visit Pittsburgh until Dec. 14, right around the upper end of Fehr’s projected recovery timetable, according to the Penguins’ news release. He had entered unrestricted free agency off a two-year contract with Washington worth $1.5 million annually. His agent, Craig Oster, did not return a message seeking comment.