Spoke with all of the Caps impending free agents during Breakdown Day on Monday save Alex Semin – shocker – and Keith Aucoin, who reporters just missed. Interesting conversation with forward Jeff Halpern, who says he still intends to play in the NHL next season at age 36. Whether that will be here, in his hometown, is a different question.
Halpern appeared in 69 games with Washington after re-signing here last summer. He was expected to anchor the fourth line and thought he was doing an effective job for most of the season. He finished with four goals and 12 assists and was one of the NHL’s best faceoff men. And yet, Halpern fell out of favor with the coaching staff. He did not play in a regular-season game after March 23 and only appeared in the Stanley Cup playoffs when center Jay Beagle broke his foot in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“It obviously wasn’t the finish of a season that I personally would have liked,” Halpern said. “The team was doing well, but as far as for my own personal career and future, you hope that there’s a lot of other opinions out there. I just prepare the same way.”
Are the Caps still in play here? Obviously, the team has to decide Halpern is in their plans, first. That process begins this week as the players meet with team coaches and executives. Dale Hunter won’t be back as head coach so that provides a fresh start, if Halpern is so inclined. It hasn’t always been easy for him here. He saw the team dismantled firsthand early last decade just before the lockout and then was captain of the atrocious 2005-06 team before deciding a full rebuild wasn’t for him. Halpern signed with the Dallas Stars the next year.
“I take a little bit of time off, a couple weeks off, and then start training,” Halpern said. “I have a good relationship with [general manager] George [McPhee]. I’ll talk to George, I would expect. And I’m sure that we’ll be honest with each other in our year-end meetings and go from there. I was pretty happy up until a couple months ago with how I played.”
That coming from a guy who is notoriously his own harshest critic. Halpern admitted he “played in a fog” when thrust back into action for Game 6 of the second-round series against the New York Rangers. But he felt much better in Game 7 and likely would have continued playing had Washington won Game 7 and advanced to face New Jersey this week in the conference semifinals. Halpern didn’t want to comment on why the coaching staff shelved him for seven weeks. That was out of his control, anyway.
“I’m not quite sure how I should have or could have handled it. I was unhappy and I wouldn’t expect anyone not in the lineup to be happy about that,” Halpern said. “At times you try to come to the rink, you try to have a smile on your face and support the guys as much as you can. I try to do that as best as I could. At the same times, especially the times I wasn’t playing down the stretch and in the playoffs, those are the most exciting times to be playing hockey. Internally it was hard. I hope that I put on a good face. I hope that I did as much as I could to support the team.”
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