The Washington Capitals re-signed center Jeff Halpern to a one-year contract yesterday, a move that puts into place a key piece of the team's rebuilding plan.
Halpern accepted the team's qualifying offer, which is a 10 percent raise over what he earned last season. He signed the $1,622,500 deal at the team's practice rink at Piney Orchard before suiting up for the second day of the Capitals' annual development camp.
The Capitals signed Halpern despite a labor dispute between the NHL owners and players association that threatens to cancel some or all of next season. The owners are threatening to shut down the league if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached by Sept. 15.
Even so, getting Halpern under contract was important for the Capitals, who are rebuilding after trading most of their high-priced stars last season. At 28, Halpern is one of Washington's longest tenured and most experienced players, and comes at a relatively affordable price. Washington will not have to pay any of its players if there is a lockout.
Halpern's role next season will extend beyond scoring goals and checking opposing players; he'll also be asked to shepherd the team's younger players off the ice.
"Jeff is a valuable player for us and he's one of our leaders," General Manager George McPhee said. "I talked to him this morning and told him that he's going to have to be patient for a year or so. We also talked about the importance of working with the young players. . . . He's happy and we're happy."
The uncertain future of the game weighed heavily on Halpern's decision to accept the qualifying offer. Halpern could have filed for arbitration, as teammate Brendan Witt did last week, or risked trying to negotiate a more lucrative deal.
"I'm happy with the contract," said Halpern, a native of Potomac. "Given the current situation with the collective bargaining agreement, it's not exactly a perfect environment to negotiate in. I would have liked a longer deal, but I'm happy with what I got."
Halpern was one of the Capitals' best players down the stretch last season, his fifth in the NHL. He scored 19 goals and finished with a career-best 46 points.
Unlike some of the Capitals, Halpern is certain that he's got something to work toward -- he is a member of Team USA, which will participate in the World Cup of Hockey tournament Aug. 30-Sept. 14.
While the Capitals were welcoming back Halpern yesterday, they were dealing with two losses: Nolan Yonkman, one of the organization's top defensive prospects, suffered another serious knee injury Monday; and Randy Carlyle, an assistant coach the past two years, resigned to become head coach of the Manitoba Moose of the AHL, the Vancouver Canucks' top minor league affiliate.
Yonkman, who missed most of the past two seasons with injuries, reinjured his left knee, the same joint that was operated on last December, during drills. The 1999 second-round draft pick was scheduled to have surgery yesterday. It was a disappointing development for the defense-poor club, which hoped the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder finally would crack the lineup next season. That seems unlikely now with him expected to be sidelined until November, McPhee said.
Carlyle returns to the Moose organization, where he worked for six seasons prior to joining the Capitals in 2002. Carlyle worked primarily with the Capitals' defensemen.
Capitals Notes: Defenseman Steve Eminger sat out yesterday's workout because of severe shin splints, which he suffered while running this summer. Winger Alexander Semin was sidelined with a sprained ankle. Both are day-to-day. . . .
The prospects in this week's development camp will scrimmage four-on-four Thursday at Piney Orchard beginning at 6:30 p.m. The session will be open to the public.