Several players saw themselves watching, rather than playing, for one reason or another during Dale Hunter’s tenure as coach. Jeff Halpern was one of them.
Signed to help anchor the fourth line and take key faceoffs, Halpern did precisely that for the bulk of the regular season but by March he was on the outside looking in as the Capitals tried to push toward the playoffs. Halpern was a healthy scratch for 12 of the final 15 regular season games. He continued to sit throughout the playoffs and only got in the lineup after Jay Beagle broke his foot in Game 5 of the second round.
Halpern didn’t want to discuss why he might have fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, but the veteran center said he tried to cope with the benching as best he could.
“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 time, especially the times I wasn’t playing down the stretch and in the playoffs, and those are the most exciting times to be playing hockey,” Halpern continued. “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. But yeah, those are moments where you want to be out there.”
Halpern is one of six players from the Capitals’ NHL roster that will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. The 36-year-old center was adamant he wants to continue playing, but it’s uncertain whether another turn with his hometown team would be in the cards.
“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 options out there.”
The Capitals have a lot of decisions to make about the direction of the team next year, beginning with bringing in a new head coach but also deciding if any of the impending UFAs, like Halpern, would still fit in their plans.
“I have a good relationship with [General Manager] George [McPhee],” Halpern said. ‘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. And whatever happens in a summer, you go through it and take it from there.”