By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 8, 2006
Yesterday brought some welcome news for the struggling Washington Capitals: Team captain Jeff Halpern is close to returning from the injury that's sidelined him the past two games, and Olie Kolzig's agent and team management soon will begin discussing a multiyear contract extension.
Kolzig said he expects his agent, Art Breeze, to speak by telephone with Capitals General Manager George McPhee in the coming days about a deal that will ensure the goaltender's career will end in the city where it began.
"I anticipate that we'll all talk this week, about what the plan is anyway," Kolzig said after working out at Piney Orchard Ice Arena. "I'm going to leave it up to Art. I don't like getting too involved in the business side of the game. I'm not a greedy guy. I'd just rather have the agent handle it."
The 35-year-old Kolzig, one of the league's best goaltenders and the heart of the Capitals' locker room, repeatedly has said he wants to finish his career in Washington. His feelings haven't changed, he reiterated yesterday.
McPhee and Coach Glen Hanlon have said they consider Kolzig to be a key cog in the team's rebuilding blueprint.
Kolzig, the team's highest-paid player, is due to earn $4.94 million this season, the last year of a five-year pact. He'll become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 if the sides cannot agree on an extension.
The market for elite goaltenders likely was established last week when the Dallas Stars re-signed Marty Turco to a reported four-year, $22.8 million contract, which works out to $5.7 million per season.
McPhee does not discuss contract specifics publicly, but did acknowledge that he expects to have preliminary discussions with Breeze this week.
"Ultimately it's my decision," Kolzig said. "But that's what I pay Art for, to get fair market value and to find out where I fit in as far as the rest of the league. And then I'll make a decision based on that."
Meanwhile, Halpern, the Capitals' second leading scorer, could be back in the lineup this week. The veteran center skated for the second day in a row and said he felt "pretty good."
Although team officials won't divulge the exact nature of his injury, it's believed to be a minor knee sprain.
Halpern will skate again this morning but said it's unlikely he'll return for today's game against the Florida Panthers. He is instead aiming for Tuesday's meeting with the Chicago Blackhawks, which will mark the end of the season's first half for the Capitals, who have lost five of their past six games and remain stuck at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
"It's gotten better every day, and there have been no setbacks," Halpern said after a light skate. "Today it felt pretty good. There were only a couple of things that I hope will get better. I don't know how I'll feel tomorrow, but I'm encouraged."
Halpern said he hopes to pick up his goal-scoring production when he returns. He has a disappointing three goals in 36 games, but his 19 assists put him behind only rookie Alex Ovechkin (25 goals, 22 assists) on the Capitals in points.
"Given the amount of quality chances I've had, and that the puck just hasn't gone in, that part is disappointing," Halpern said. "Maybe it's the way I'm shooting the puck. I'm getting enough shots, they are just not going in. Obviously, this injury comes at a time when I usually pick up steam in January. It comes at a bad time."
Hanlon added: "Obviously, he's expected and we've expected more goals. He hasn't forgotten his leadership skills and become a selfish player doing everything he can to score goals. If you have three at the 40-game mark, that doesn't mean you'll only finish with six. He's historically a 15- to 20-goals scorer. So it's not out of the realm of possibilities for him to score 12 goals in the second half and end up with 15 to 17 goals."