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After shedding Fehr’s salary, Caps’ focus shifts to keeping Alzner

General Manager George McPhee and the Washington Capitals drew rave reviews for going out and signing four veterans in free agency to fill holes that became evident in yet another early playoff exit. But that aggressiveness also pushed the Caps over the salary ceiling, meaning someone had to go.

On Friday the Caps revealed that someone was Eric Fehr, trading the right wing and his $2.2 million cap hit to the Winnipeg Jets for a fourth-round pick and a prospect. Fehr could feel something coming after Washington traded for Troy Brouwer and signed Joel Ward, spending combined $5.35 million.

"Around the draft time and free agent signings, bringing in a few right wingers I was just starting to think about different possibilities and what could happen," Fehr said Friday.

Injury problems plagued Fehr's time with the Caps, as he played 230 career games in Washington and managed just 46 goals and 47 assists. With Brouwer and Ward playing the same position and bringing perhaps some more consistency, durability and grit, Fehr was the odd man out.

"We have a surplus of right wingers and we decided to move one to build upon our draft-pick stock for the 2012 draft," McPhee said through a team spokesman.

The return for Fehr — 20-year-old ECHL right wing Danick Paquette and a mid-round pick — certainly was not befitting of his past status as a top prospect. But this was essentially a salary dump that should clear just enough room for the one major move left in the offseason and ensure the Caps will be salary compliant come October.

That one major move is re-signing restricted free agent defenseman Karl Alzner, who is expected to command in the neighborhood of $2.5 and $3 million per season. At 22 years old, Alzner became the Caps' top shutdown defenseman this past year and is an integral part of the team.

But there's still work to do.

"We haven't been able to sort of bridge the gap for evaluating Karl's value for next season," his agent, J.P. Barry said Friday. "It's not a really wide gap. We've worked hard to narrow it over time."

Barry said he and the Caps are negotiating a two-year deal. If no agreement is reached by Friday, Alzner must decide whether to accept Washington's one-year qualifying offer or remain a restricted free agent while continuing to seek a longer contract.

Rumors will continue to swirl about trades and speculation about offer sheets for Alzner, but the Caps almost certainly will find a way to keep him.

And once they put defenseman Tom Poti on long-term injured reserve after training camp (assuming his groin injuries warrant that as expected), the Caps should be under the salary cap and ready for the 2011-12 NHL season — thanks to a deal that sent Fehr to his hometown team.

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