To hear Doug Wilson tell it, Eric Fehr is a veritable cornucopia of hockey intangibles. In Paul Gackle’s piece for Mercury News about the recently acquired center, a few Wilson quotes resonate loudly. He begins by saying that Fehr offers a lot of what coach Pete DeBoer is looking for, then continues:
He can kill penalties, he wins faceoffs and with all the young players that we have on our roster, it’ll be nice to have another veteran guy. He’s just a good fit.
According to the NHL.com website, 210 skaters took at least 100 face offs during the 2016-17 season. Fehr took just 154 in his 52 games. His 51.2% face off win percentage ranked 71st out of those 200 skaters. So, we can grant Doug Wilson that. He appears to be a solid contributor in the face off dot. What makes this a bit of an eyebrow raising decree is the fact Barclay Goodrow has won 55.7% of his face offs this season. That figure ranks 15th among the 202 skaters who have taken at least 100 face offs this year.
It appears Goodrow’s youthful exuberance isn’t a good fit. Sorry, Barclay. Back to the kids’ table.
We’re very familiar with his game. He was the shutdown centerman against us in the Stanley Cup Final a couple years ago. That veteran mentality with how he thinks and processes the game will allow him to come in and help right away.
Ah, yes. There is that veteran edge again. There is just no substitute for being old, it appears. How about the shutdown centerman claim?
It appears as though Fehr did do a good job of limiting dangerous chances against while skating with the Penguins last season. How has Goodrow fared in this department this year?
Goodrow also appears to be pretty decent at preventing dangerous chances against. We can look at some numbers to make sure our eyes aren’t deceiving us.
The following are all 5v5 numbers: Fehr allowed 4.6 more shots per hour than his teammates did. He allowed 0.65 unblocked shots fewer than his teammates. He allowed 0.21 fewer expected goals against per hour than his teammates.
Goodrow allows 2.8 fewer shots per hour than his teammates. He allows 5.6 fewer unblocked shots than his teammates. Finally, he allows 0.42 more expected goals against compared to his teammates. Goodrow’s teammates are slightly worse than those of Fehr’s from the 2016-17 Penguins in terms of the percentage of shots they took and the expected goals per hour they allowed.
Perhaps it’s easier to outperform worse teammates. Either way, both appear similarly effective at limiting shots and chances against. If anything, we can give Fehr a slight edge in the “shutdown center” column, if we have to award a prize to either.
What we really liked about him is that he was playing really hard in San Diego. He was doing everything he could to get back to the NHL.
This is something. Perhaps it’s just another part of Doug Wilson’s long con (which is not quite apparent yet. Good on him), but it seems bizarre to prefer a player who is trying but ostensibly failing to get back to the NHL over a player who has been in the NHL all season.
It’s clear Goodrow is at a major disadvantage in front of a coach and general manager who seem hell-bent on installing a veteran on their bottom line. But maybe there is more to it than that. What might Fehr offer on the ice over Goodrow?
The caveat with this graphic is that Barclay Goodrow’s big blue bars are the result of just two games of tracking data from this season. As a result, any results of his are volatile until we have more data about his neutral zone performance. It appears Fehr is quite capable of exiting the zone with possession at a high rate, although most of his exits are likely dump outs. Outside of ushering the puck from his zone into the neutral zone — an important quality for a defensive forward — Fehr doesn’t appear incredibly capable of pushing transition play. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know what he might offer versus what Goodrow currently brings to the team.
We do have more information about Goodrow’s individual production and his impact on the team. Goodrow is just above average when it comes to his on-ice shot differential (CF%) and his shot differential relative to the team when he is not on the ice (Rel CF%.) Fehr, on the other hand, is well into the bottom fifth of the league when it comes to driving shot differential. Fehr is slightly better at helping his team turn the shots they do generate into dangerous chances, as seen by his 61st-percentile expected goals for percentage.
However, he’s no match for Goodrow’s expected goals impact, as the young (not veteran) forward is contributing to dangerous chance creation at the rate of a skater in the top fifth of the league. Goodrow’s individual primary point production eclipses that of Fehr, though he can thank a somewhat high shooting percentage for part of that.
Though Fehr began his season with Pittsburgh playing close to 11 minutes per night of hockey (all strengths), he ended his season there logging closer to nine minutes per game. Goodrow has been playing a touch more than 10 minutes per night, with a slight uptick during the past 10 games.
Goodrow’s worst offense this season has been to take nearly one more penalty than he draws each hour of 5v5 ice time. Fehr, on the other hand, was closer to even in his penalty differential.
Defense: Edge to Fehr
Penalty differential: Fehr
Individual scoring: Goodrow
Face offs: Goodrow
On-ice shot impact: Goodrow
On-ice expected goal impact: Goodrow
Individual production: Goodrow, though thanks in part to a high shooting percentage
Neutral zone play: Tough to tell without more data, but Fehr appears to be better at exits, while Goodrow has shown positive entry results so far and generates more shots with his entries.
Veteran presence: Fehr
It is apparent that Doug Wilson and/or Pete DeBoer simply wanted a guy they felt they could trust more to anchor (in a positive way) their fourth line. Unfortunately, it appears what they’ve found is an anchor (in a negative way) for their fourth line. It’s an interesting play for a guy who wasn’t able to beat out a 37-year-old Dominic Moore on the Maple Leafs this season and was loaned to a team outside of his own organization. Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan didn’t seem to trust Fehr with any sort of consequential minutes, so it’s difficult to see how, another year older, Fehr will receive minutes that matter for San Jose.
The other unfortunate side effect of playing Fehr is it installs an older player who very clearly isn’t in the team’s future into a role San Jose might otherwise give to younger skaters as a sort of try out for the big leagues. Every NHL coach has his veteran security blanket, and it looks like Doug Wilson indulged DeBoer’s request for one. Unfortunately, the acquisition is likely to make the team worse.