Jeff Halpern spent this summer just like he has any other, readying himself for a new NHL season with early-morning workouts and a tough skating regimen. But with training camps set to open around the league in less than a week, the veteran center still doesn’t know if he will have a place to play.
The Potomac, Md., native and former Capital became an unrestricted free agent this summer after playing 36 games for the Rangers and Canadiens last year in what was his 13th NHL season. Halpern, 37, isn’t ready for his playing career to end, and even as the days tick off the calendar he remains optimistic that over the next few days he will either sign with a team or be invited to training camp on a professional tryout contract.
“It’s like a game of musical chairs. You’re playing the game and at some point the music stops and there’s nowhere to sit down,” Halpern said Friday. “I enjoy the preparing, skating during the summers — the getting ready is easy. I still know I can play the game, it’s just whether you get an opportunity to prove that point. I wouldn’t say it throws you into thoughts of retirement, but it definitely makes me reflect on a lot of points of my career.”
Halpern has been skating at KCI with the ever-growing number of Capitals players as the offseason winds down and continues to be one of the last ones off the ice, often leading the group in sprints.
He’s gone through this waiting game before – back in 2010 he signed with Montreal less than two weeks before training camp started — but this year, because of the lowered salary cap and simply a lack of open roster spots, there are an abundance of veterans like him looking for a place to land. Halpern has focused on ensuring he is in shape should any opportunity arise, but knows that his fate is out of his control.
In addition to his offseason training, Halpern has relished learning about the nature of a different business over the past year with Astro Doughnuts, the doughnut and fried chicken shop in downtown D.C. he co-owns with friend Elliot Spaisman.
“It’s a whole other part of a business life that I enjoy, using my mind in a different way, using some of the tools I learned growing up and in college and applying those to the business world,” said Halpern, who graduated from Princeton. “I’ve realized how competitive the business world is – moreso than the NHL, even – and enjoy the process of trying to create a good product.”
Whenever Halpern’s playing career does come to a conclusion, though, don’t expect him to make a transition away from hockey. Halpern already knows he wants to find a way to remain involved in the sport, perhaps as a coach.
“I like the team-building side, but I always liked the feel of having interaction with players,” Halpern said. “The guys I played with last year are close to 20 years younger than me or barely half my age, but it keeps me excited and passionate about the game just to see their excitement. It’s something that I think I’d want to be a part of, at whatever level. I think coaching is something I want to apply my time to when my playing days are done.”