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Jeff Halpern always ‘hoped to come back to Washington’ and Capitals

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When Jeff Halpern last donned a Washington Capitals sweater, in 2005-06, Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich were rookies and defensemen Mike Green was trying to dent the NHL roster each time he was called up from Hershey.

Now Halpern, 35, returns to a Capitals team that has grown out of the rebuilding process and is led by those players.

“I’ve always kind of hoped to come back to Washington and the fact that they called, I was ecstatic,” Halpern said on Wednesday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “I have great memories playing here, I jumped on the opportunity to come back.”

The Potomac, Md., native has played for four teams — Dallas, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles and Montreal — in the five seasons since he last played for Washington, but none with the same success that he had in his home town. Halpern’s 11 goals and 26 points in 2010-11 were his most since 2005-06, when he had 11 goals and 44 points.

Halpern has battled groin and knee injuries throughout his career and missed time toward the end of last season with a lower-body injury.

But the veteran center said he is healthy. Halpern is expected to center the fourth line and also see time on the penalty kill.

Part of the reason General Manager George McPhee signed Halpern to a one-year deal worth $825,000 in the latter portion of his career is his ability to add more offense than the Capitals have received from the fourth line in years past.

“He got 26 points last year, which is more than we got out of that position last year,” McPhee said on July 1, when Halpern signed with Washington. “We want players to be able to fulfill certain roles but also generate offense.”

Halpern also provides ample leadership experience. He served as captain in Washington in 2005-06 and also captained the U.S. world championship team in 2008. Regardless of whether he wears a letter on his jersey, Halpern said he won’t alter his playing style and demeanor.

“I don’t think my role would change whether I had a letter on my jersey on another team or now,” Halpern said. “But I’ve always said it doesn’t really matter who carries a letter. You want to have your personality and be able to add to the team.

“I’m coming into a new situation,” Halpern continued. “I’ve played with a few guys here but you don’t want to come in and start ranting and raving right off the bat. You want to blend in and mix in, this is a tremendous group that’s playing here, you want to add to it, you don’t want to dig into it too much.”

Capitals notes: The Capitals signed winger Troy Brouwer to a two-year contract worth $2.35 million per season on Wednesday.

Washington acquired Brouwer, who was a restricted free agent, from the Chicago Blackhawks on the first day of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in exchange for its first-round (26th overall) selection.

Brouwer’s new contract pushes the Capitals over the NHL salary cap of $64.3 million for the 2011-12 season by a little more than $1.8 million, based on calculations of players with one-way contracts – those that yield the same salary regardless if a player is in the NHL or minors — available at CapGeek.com.

Washington still has flexibility and time to tweak the roster, , though, because teams are allowed to exceed the cap by 10 percent in the summer. Restricted free agent defenseman Karl Alzner is the lone player remaining from last year’s roster who has yet to be signed for next season. . . .

Unrestricted free agent center Jason Arnott signed a one-year contract with the St. Louis Blues. The deal is worth $2.5 million, with potential bonuses that could increase his salary up to $2.8 million according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Arnott played in 11 regular season games, recording seven points, and nine playoff contests (six points) after Washington acquired him at the trade deadline from New Jersey.

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