NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was an atmosphere out of a fairy tale. The Winnipeg Jets were back, playing their first NHL game at MTS Centre since transforming from the Atlanta Thrashers.
And there was Eric Fehr, wearing a suit on the bench and waving to the excited crowd. Fehr was still bothered by his surgically repaired right shoulder and couldn't play in the opener.
"It was a very weird experience for me," Fehr said in a phone interview this week. "I didn't think I'd ever see the Jets back in Winnipeg while I was in the NHL. To be traded here and to be part of the team coming back was something I never could have dreamed of. It was really frustrating watching it from the bench, knowing I could've been a part of history and getting our team back in Winnipeg."
Fehr wasn't part of that historic night, or any game since, with that shoulder injury preventing the former Washington Capitals forward from making his Jets debut. Shoulder problems have plagued Fehr's career since becoming the No. 18 pick in 2003 and earning status as one of the game's top prospects.
"It's extremely tough. He had the double shoulder surgery and then played and then had to get it again the next summer," former teammate and friend Karl Alzner said. "That's just terrible luck for a guy who's as great of a guy as he is, you never want to see that happen to anybody. I'm hoping that he gets a good full recovery here and can play an extended period of time."
An extended period of time would be great for Fehr, but for now he just wants to get back. He's still working on building up strength in the right shoulder and hasn't felt good enough to subject himself to the punishment of game action.
Traded from the Caps to the Jets in July for a fourth-round pick and prospect Danick Paquette, Fehr probably could see top-six minutes with Winnipeg. The Winkler, Manitoba, native instead has more work to do to be ready.
"It's very frustrating. Obviously with the change of team and a new opportunity I was kind of hoping my shoulder would heal up a little bit quicker so I'd be able to get in the lineup and try to help contribute," Fehr said. "That's not the case; it's been a slow process. It's been tough being on the sideline and watch our team play."
Thursday night will be especially tough. Alzner said he and other teammates were planning on getting together with Fehr on Wednesday night for dinner. Fehr's looking forward to seeing his friends, like Alzner and John Carlson, but not being able to play against his former team is less-than-ideal.
"It's a lot easier knowing that we play the Capitals as many times as we do. But this was kind of a game I had circled on my calendar that I really wanted to play," Fehr said. "I'm thinking it might come and go."
With Fehr more like week-to-week, he said, than day-to-day, even the Jets' Thanksgiving eve visit to Washington is in doubt.
Fehr said he's getting closer to being ready, but given how hard it is to play with a shoulder problem, there's no timetable for a return.
"I see how my shoulder responds to getting hurt or doing certain movements. As I feel better, I'll get closer to playing, and if it doesn't I'll continue to rehab it," Fehr said. "If I had an honest date, i'd probably tell somebody, but I really have no idea when I'll be able to come back."
What Fehr does know is that he'll be reunited with his baseball glove upon seeing Alzner and Carlson. The 26-year-old never returned to Kettler to get his equipment bag after the train, and the glove — a part of pregame throwing sessions — never made it to Winnipeg.
"Maybe he'll want to throw a few when we get there," Alzner said.
Friends and a nice catch. All that's missing is hockey — something Fehr hopes to get back to as soon as possible.
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