Eric Belanger has agreed in principle to a one-year, $1.85 million contract with the Capitals to return to Washington for the 2010-11 season, according to an NHL source with knowledge of the situation.
The deal has been in the works for some time, the source said, adding that the team is indeed waiting to finalize the agreement after making additional roster changes. Despite the wait there is no indication that the Belanger agreement will fall through, the source said.
The Globe and Mail was the first to report that Belanger would return to the Capitals and in that account suggest that Washington may be exploring trade options, possibly to bring in a defenseman. It remains unclear what other deal Washington might be targeting, but according to The Globe and Mail's report it might involve Tomas Fleischmann, who signed a one-year, $2.6 million deal this summer.
With just the addition of Belanger, at $1.85 million, Washington would be left with one spot remaining under the maximum roster size of 23 players and just over $3.4 million in space under the salary cap according to my calculations via Capgeek.com.
Belanger's return will certainly make it an interesting battle for among a group of players potentially including Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, Fleischmann and Mathieu Perreault for ice time behind top-line center Nicklas Backstrom.
The 32-year-old Belanger played in 24 games with the Capitals after being acquired from the Minnesota Wild at last year's trade deadline, recording two goals and five assists. He finished the regular season ninth in the league in face-off win percentage (56.4) and his skills in the face-off circle combined with his penalty-killing abilities were some of the prime reasons Washington brought him into the fold last March.
Don't forget that Belanger has his fair share of grit too. He lost eight teeth during last year's first-round playoff series against Montreal, not that it phased him on the bench much.
General Manager George McPhee declined to comment through a team spokesperson. In mid-June, Tarik reported that Belanger was still on the Capitals radar with McPhee saying the two sides were "talking a little bit."