By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 6, 2006
Free agent center Jeff Halpern, the Washington Capitals' captain last season and a fan favorite because of his ties to the area, signed a four-year contract with the Dallas Stars yesterday.
Halpern's new deal will pay him about $2 million per season, which was more than the Capitals, who are already stocked with checking line forwards, had offered him to stay. Washington was hesitant to offer Halpern more than two years or $1.5 million per season, although ownership gave management the flexibility to increase the dollar figure.
In recent days, the only serious talks Halpern's agent had were with the Stars and Colorado Avalanche, who also made a serious bid for the 30-year-old.
"Jeff has been a good story," Capitals General Manager George McPhee said. "He's a local kid who realized his dream of playing in the league, and playing for his hometown team. It went well for seven years. We were happy with his play. But he's made a decision to move along. And we don't blame him for taking that kind of deal. It's hard to turn that kind of deal down."
Halpern was signed as a free agent out of Princeton in 1999 by the Capitals, the team he cheered while growing up in Potomac. He earned a roster spot in training camp later that year and quickly became a fan favorite, for both his local roots and his feisty play.
A face-off and penalty-killing specialist, Halpern totaled 11 goals and 44 points in 70 games last season while battling knee and back injuries. Over his six-year career in Washington, the 6-foot, 198-pound Halpern amassed 87 goals and 127 assists in 438 games.
"I feel good," Halpern said. "There are a lot of emotions that I'm feeling. But mostly I just wish the season got started tomorrow, instead of having two months to think about it."
Halpern's agent, Mike Liut said: "I don't want Dallas to take this the wrong way, but it took Jeff a very long time to come to this decision. He said to me, 'No matter which way I go, when I sign a contract, I'm going to feel sick.' It took him about 24 hours to get past that thought process. This is an opportunity for him to get out and see the rest of the world."
Halpern's departure leaves the rebuilding Capitals without a captain, although one is likely to be in place by the end of training camp in September. The list of candidates includes veterans Chris Clark, Dainius Zubrus and Brian Sutherby, with an outside possibility of reigning rookie of the year Alex Ovechkin getting the "C" on his jersey.
The Capitals, who also lost free agent winger Brian Willsie to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, will look to fill the vacated roster spots from within the organization. McPhee has said the team probably won't make any more free agent signings, and instead hopes the club's prospects, particularly those who starred for the Hershey Bears' Calder Cup championship squad, will earn spots in training camp.
Capitals Note: Forwards Matt Bradley, Ben Clymer, Rico Fata, Matt Pettinger and Brian Sutherby and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn filed for salary arbitration before yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline. Hearings will be held in Toronto from July 20 to Aug. 4.