A few local reporters caught up with former Capitals forward Jeff Halpern this evening at Kettler Iceplex as he picked up his skates from the shop on the second level. Halpern signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the New York Rangers on Monday. He was told last month by Washington general manager George McPhee that he wouldn’t be back with the team next season and there was some anxiety about finding a new job before a logjam of free agents clogged the market. A looming labor war between the NHLPA and the owners wouldn’t have helped any.

“It’s a huge relief. It just makes the whole year more exciting knowing where you’re going and already planning on being part of that team,” Halpern said. “Like I said at the end of the season, I was hoping one person’s opinion would be different than someone else’s opinion. Happy to get an opportunity to go back to work and with a good organization, a good coach and a good team.”

Halpern, of course, previously played for Rangers coach John Tortorella for 19 games in Tampa Bay after a trade from Dallas during the 2007-08 season. No wonder Tortorella thinks so highly of him. Halpern scored 10 goals and had eight assists in those 19 games. That was more than he had all last season with the Caps (four goals, 12 assists).

Halpern wouldn’t say if he was weighing offers from other teams. He has talked briefly with Tortorella and has a general idea of what his role will be. Not hard to parse that one out: Faceoff specialist, depth forward with some time on the penalty kill. Not a bad veteran to have on hand, but the Caps obviously felt they could replace him.  Thus ends Halpern’s second stint with his hometown team.

“I think the biggest thing is just the relationships and friendships I’ve made with the guys on the team,” Halpern said. “It’s a great group. It was amazing coming back [to Washington] and playing in a new hockey environment. It’s a hockey-crazy fan base and it’s a credit to the organization and the players. I enjoyed every part of it.”

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