Free-agent center Eric Belanger signs one-year deal with Phoenix Coyotes

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2010; 11:51 PM

Free agent center Eric Belanger signed a one-year contract with the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday, reportedly worth $750,000.

Belanger played 24 games for the Washington Capitals during the 2009-10 regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs, recording two goals and seven points after being acquired from the Minnesota Wild at the trade deadline. The nine-year veteran posted 13 goals and 35 points in 60 games with the Wild.

Last month, the Capitals appeared to have an agreement in place that would bring Belanger back to Washington, pending the completion of a trade. The team never confirmed that it had an arrangement with Belanger, and on Tuesday, Capitals General Manager George McPhee declined to comment while a team spokesman reiterated that Washington never had a contract agreement with Belanger.

Belanger's agent, Joe Tacopina, said the Capitals did have a deal to bring back Belanger and even helped him sign a lease for a house in Washington and enroll his two daughters in area schools.

"It's just disingenuous," Tacopina said. "Despite a two-way commitment and requesting Eric to commit to them and take himself out of the [free agent] mix, when they wound up not being able to make the trade several weeks later, they decided they couldn't sign him."

Belanger, 32, served primarily as a third-line center for the Capitals last year and became something of a fan favorite in the playoffs after getting eight teeth knocked out in Game 5 of Washington's first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens. He played more than 10 minutes in the game after having exposed roots in his teeth trimmed between periods.

Expected to provide depth for Phoenix after Matthew Lombardi signed with Nashville this summer, Belanger has a chance to play on one of the Coyotes' top two lines.

"We are excited to have Eric join us here in Phoenix," Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said in a news release. "He is a smart, quick, talented center who plays well on both sides of the puck. We had identified Eric early in the free agency period as someone who would be a great fit with us and feel fortunate we are able to bring him to the Coyotes organization."

Capitals note: Defenseman Tom Poti skated Tuesday morning for the first time since suffering a gruesome eye injury in Game 6 of the Capitals first-round series against Montreal.

The oldest returning member of the Capitals' defense is healthy and ready for a new season to start - with a visor attached to his helmet.

"It took awhile to finally get everything under control," Poti said. "This summer it got infected and for awhile there were a lot of eye appointments and trips to the doctor, but now the vision is the same as it was last year. I'm still on some medication that I need to finish up - I'm on a couple months-long process to make sure the infection doesn't come back. We've just got to make sure everything's ready to go."

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