Two days ago, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Capitals general manager Bran MacLellan was “trying to close” free agent deals with centers Eric Fehr and Jay Beagle.
While that may be the case with Beagle, Fehr’s agent said Thursday that Fehr will be interviewing with other NHL teams interested in signing him when the free agency period begins next Wednesday. Beginning today, pending unrestricted free agents can begin speaking with prospective teams.
“Eric has had significant interest and he will be participating in the interview period,” Fehr’s agent, Craig Oster, said Thursday, adding that he never talked contract term or value with the Capitals.
“I think it’s the Capitals having to prioritize how to allocate their resources,” Oster said, referring to pending restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov. “They have limited resources and have to make some tough choices.”
Fehr, 29, is coming off his most productive season in five years. He recorded 19 goals and 33 points for the Caps while solidifying himself as a checking-line center. Fehr missed 10 of the Caps’ final 11 games with an elbow injury, then missed 10 of their 14 playoff games with a shoulder injury.
Fehr is ending a two-year contract that paid him an annual salary of $1.5 million. He could be looking to double that contract in both term and value.
Fehr said after the season that he hoped he could return for a 10th season with the Caps who took him with the 18th overall pick of the 2003 NHL draft, but Oster said that never came close to happening.
“Eric has mentioned to them all along that if there was a possibility of doing something that makes sense for both sides he’d be interested in coming back,” Oster said. “I think Washington recognized that in the preliminary discussions we had that Eric has certain [salary] expectations and because of that I guess they made a determination that it’s just not going to work, or there are other things they have to focus on first.
“I think Eric’s first priority was to stay in Washington and he never had the opportunity to get into meaningful discussions about doing that.”
Of the Caps’ five notable pending UFAs – Mike Green, Joel Ward, Curtis Glencross, Tim Gleason and Fehr – it now appears Beagle has the best chance of returning next season. MacLellan said Thursday he does not rule out the possibility of circling back to his UFAs on July 1 if they have not signed with other teams by then.
“I get the sense there are not many UFA contracts being signed right now. I’m not sure what’s going on in the market place but I think a lot of teams are struggling to get their guys signed. It think it’s just what’s going on in the market.
“Ideally, [circling back] would be the way it works, but it’s hard to predict.”
If Green, Ward, Fehr, Glencross and Gleason sign elsewhere, the Caps would have holes to fill at top-line right wing, third-line center and seventh defenseman, either through trade, free agent signings or promoting from within.