Jeff Halpern

Date of Last Contract:September 27, 2001

Signed Through: 2003-2004 Season



Capitals, Native Son Halpern Finally Come to Terms

Jason La Canfora
The Washington Post
September 27, 2001; Page D01

The Washington Capitals signed rising star Jeff Halpern to a two-year contract with a club option for a third year yesterday, and the center rejoined his teammates for practice after missing the first two weeks of training camp because of the impasse.

Halpern, 25, is the team's third-leading goal scorer since entering the NHL out of Princeton University two seasons ago and leads club forwards in plus-minus rating since making his debut. The Potomac native -- the first player born and raised in this area to reach the NHL -- is vital on special teams, centers one of the best checking lines in the league and has been the club's top playoff performer.

"It's definitely good to be back," said Halpern, who hopes to play in at least one of the final two preseason games this weekend. Being away from the team "was a big factor in everything going on. It's the type of thing when you look around and figure out where you want to be and this is where I'm happiest. It is definitely good to be back."

Halpern will earn a base salary of about $1 million each of the next two seasons with the club option worth $1.45 million. He can make an additional $50,000 for each of four scoring plateaus -- 22, 25, 28 or 31 goals (a total of $200,000) -- sources said.

The signing ended what had been surprisingly long and at times acrimonious negotiations. Halpern is a former Capitals season ticket holder. He played for the Little Caps youth team and is a family friend of team president Dick Patrick, who once coached Halpern.

Few expected Halpern to miss half of training camp -- he is considered one of the hardest working players on the team -- and Halpern was disheartened by some of the comments made by General Manager George McPhee last week when talks stalled again. Halpern said yesterday he hopes to leave that in the past.

"It's hard not to take it personally," Halpern said. "But after it's said and done you have to move forward and concentrate on the things that are important to you. And for me that's hockey and you leave the business part of it aside."

Halpern agreed to the principles of a deal Tuesday night but several issues were still being negotiated while he was on the ice with his teammates yesterday afternoon. He spoke with his agent, former Capital Mike Liut, just before entering the Piney Orchard practice facility to ensure that a deal was still in place. Halpern's arrival was a pleasant surprise for his teammates.

"We didn't have any idea when it was going to be done," said Steve Konowalchuk, who has played on Halpern's line for two years. "When we heard he was going to be here this morning we all got pretty excited."

Coach Ron Wilson said he will slip Halpern back to his usual spot between Konowalchuk and right wing Ulf Dahlen and expects the center will be ready for the Oct. 6 opener. Halpern had been skating in Princeton but has not played any competitive games or scrimmages approaching the level of play in the NHL. He will not practice today in observance of Yom Kippur but will spend all of next week practicing in preparation for the regular season.

"I've never been a really religious person, but I just think given what's gone on in the world I owe it to a lot of people to take this day off," Halpern said.

Wilson said he will use next week's practices to work with the regular lines and power play and penalty killing units. The club will be down to its 23-man roster by Sunday and begins the season against the New Jersey Devils, a perennial Stanley Cup favorite. Halpern's signing eliminates the last remaining contract issue and potential distraction and gives Wilson ample time to integrate all of the club's components.

"[Halpern] hasn't practiced for real and he hasn't been in any battles along the corners and along the boards," Wilson said. "We'll see how the next few days proceed. He's an important part of the team and we're glad he's back and we can get down to business here with getting ready for opening night."

2001 The Washington Post Company