For the second time this season, the Caps have announced a pair of contract extensions on the same day. In the wake of the team’s Southeast Division clinching victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, the Caps announced today that they have re-signed forwards Eric Fehr and Aaron Volpatti to two-year contract extensions.
Fehr’s contract will pay him $1.4 million for the 2013-14 season and $1.6 million for the following campaign. His salary cap hit for that period will be $1.5 million.
“It means a lot,” says Fehr of the contract extension. “I really like the team here, I really like the guys and it’s definitely a place I want to call home for another two years. I’m really excited to have it done and just get to focus on the playoffs coming up.”
Volpatti will earn $550,000 for the 2013-14 season and $600,000 for the 2014-15 season. Volpatti’s annual salary cap hit will be $575,000.
“Obviously it’s great news,” says Volpatti. “It’s what I was after, a two-year deal. I’ve had a great time here, it’s a good group of guys and we’re on a roll so I’m happy to be back.”
The 27-year-old Fehr was a first-round (18th overall) draft choice of the Capitals in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He spent the first six seasons of his NHL career in Washington before being traded to Winnipeg on July 8, 2011. Fehr re-signed with Washington as an unrestricted free agent just prior to the start of this season. He had his best NHL season with the Caps in 2009-10, scoring 21 goals and totaling 39 points in 69 games.
Fehr has eight goals and 16 points in 39 games with the Caps this season. After starting the season as a healthy scratch, he has incrementally carved out a bigger role for himself this season. He played on the fourth line, the third line, started killing penalties for the first time in his NHL career, and he filled in capably on the left side when Washington’s portside was decimated by injuries early in the campaign. Fehr’s plus-14 defensive rating is the best on the team.
Fehr has flourished under the tutelage of Caps coach Adam Oates this season, one of several players who have benefited from being seen with a fresh set of eyes.
“It’s definitely done a lot for me,” says Fehr. “Obviously the coaches have shown a lot of confidence in me. They’re playing me on the penalty kill, a little bit in four-on-four and on the power play. It’s helped a lot. It’s helped me feel a lot more confident this year and it’s definitely something that in my mind made me want to be here more.”
After sitting out a few game early in the season and getting sporadic fourth-line ice time, Fehr’s season turned around in early February. He was one of the best players on the ice in Washington’s 5-2 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Feb. 7, and he registered his first point of the season in the following game.
Beginning with the Feb. 9 game against Florida, Fehr has eight goals and 16 points to go along with a glowing plus-18 in his last 31 games. He has been a plus or even player in 27 of those 31 contests.
“It’s been in the works for a little while,” says Fehr of the extension. “I just really wanted to be here. Obviously I see the way the team has been the last couple of months, and I just want to be a part of it. I think with coach Oates here, he has done a great job. We expect a lot out of this team and I want to be here for it.”
“I think Fehrsie has had a fantastic year,” says Oates. “He had a history here, but I wasn’t familiar with it. He’s done a great job all year long. He started as a healthy scratch – a 13th forward – and he got an extension, which obviously means that he has grown and grown and grown in responsibility. I play him in every situation now.”
Volpatti was claimed off waivers from Vancouver on Feb. 28. Including his time with the Canucks, Volpatti has a goal and two points to go along with 35 penalty minutes in 31 games this season.
With the Caps, Volpatti has one assist and seven penalty minutes in 15 games. He has averaged 9:28 per game in ice time with Washington, about two minutes more per contest than he was skating with Vancouver. He has been a plus or even player in 13 of his 15 games with Washington, and the Caps are 11-3-1 in the 15 games in which he has played.
“We brought him in because of his skating ability, size and physical play,” says Oates of Volpatti. “He hits guys. He didn’t get a chance to play for a while and because of the injuries, he’s gotten in. He’s done a good job on that fourth line. When he finishes guys, they’re aware of him out there and that’s an important contribution.”
While Washington was missing three top-nine forwards in Martin Erat, Brooks Laich and Joel Ward because of injury earlier this month, Volpatti filled in on the left side of the Capitals’ second line for two games, skating more than 14 minutes in each for the first time in his NHL career.
“I’ve felt good,” says Volpatti, “I’ve felt confident. Going forward, I want to be a bigger part of the special teams, the penalty kill. But with the guys going well right now, I’m just happy to contribute any way I can.”
The 27-year-old Volpatti is in his third NHL season. He has totaled three goals, five points and 88 penalty minutes in 69 games in the league.
With Wednesday’s signings, the Caps have 11 forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders under contract for next season. Washington has four impending unrestricted free agents in forwards Matt Hendricks, Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski and defenseman Tom Poti. The Caps have three impending restricted free agents in forward Marcus Johansson, defenseman Karl Alzner and goaltender Michal Neuvirth.