Photo credit: John McDonnell
Five years ago to the day, Jeff Halpern signed the first big-time contract of his career, a four-year, $8 million pact with the Dallas Stars. The contract took Halpern, who had just completed the most prolific two year stretch of his career (90 points in 149 games), away from his hometown team, and left Washington without a captain.
When Mike Luit, Halpern’s agent, addressed the signing with the Washington Post’s Tarik El-Bashir, he said, “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.’”
After spending the first six years of his NHL career with the Capitals, Jeff saw himself turn into something like a hockey vagabond, playing for four different teams in those five years.
“It was definitely tough leaving the comforts of playing in DC, in front of everyone here,” Halpern said today in front of a large gathering of media at Kettler Capitals IcePlex. “At the time – taking everything into consideration – it was a good decision for me.”
In hindsight, however, leaving Washington was detrimental. After averaging 36 points a year and topping the 40-point mark three times in his first six seasons with the Capitals, Halpern saw his production dip precipitously, crossing the 30-point plateau only once since leaving DC.
The former Little Capital was also a part of two deadline deals during that stretch. First, he was involved in a five-player trade with Tampa Bay that saw Brad Richards land in Dallas. Then after spending 126 games with the Lightning, GM Brian Lawton swapped the Potomac, Marlyand, native to the Los Angeles Kings for Teddy Purcell and a third round draft pick.
In 2010-11, Halpern signed a one-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens and notched 26 points in 72 games. After battling a multitude of lower body injuries throughout the year, Jeff saw his season end in the first round of the playoffs as the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins eliminated the Habs in Game 7. He also absorbed a questionable hit to the head from Andrew Ference.
Fortunately, George McPhee moved quickly on Jeff during the first day of free agency. The signing, McPhee’s first transaction during a very busy day, added veteran leadership and grit to an already captivating lineup. With Boyd Gordon in line for a raise and the Capitals needing a solid, fourth line center to replace him, Halpern was a natural fit.
“Honestly, I said the first team that would call, I’d jump on,” the thirty-five year old Halpern explained. “I’ve always hoped to come back to Washington, and the fact that they called, I was ecstatic. It’s a place I have great memories playing. I jumped on the opportunity to come back.”
The one-year deal worth $825,000 nets Halpern a $225k raise over last year and also gives the Princeton grad a chance to win the first playoff series of his career. Maybe even a championship.
“This team right off the bat is a Stanley Cup contender just by writing the line-up on a piece of paper. And watching them over the years, it’s a hard team to play against.”
So how will the former Capitals captain blend in with new Capitals Kapitan Alex Ovechkin? Some encouraging words he once gave Tampa’s most talented young gun might shed some light:
“As far as Ovi, I can’t imagine a better leader,” Halpern said. “I told a story to Steven Stamkos. When I left Tampa, I saw the same things out of him that I saw in Ovi when I left here. And that was being a guy who was basically carrying a team on his back.”
Jeff Halpern’s return to the Capitals is not a reunion or even coming full circle; it’s a new chapter in a storied career– one that we’re privileged in DC to witness.