Reporting David Elfin
Jeff Halpern was far from surprised when Caps general manager George McPhee let him know more than a week ago that his second stint in Washington was over after just one season.
After all, Halpern, who turned 36 last month, was a healthy scratch for the last seven regular season games and the first 12 of Washington’s 14 postseason contests. Dale Hunter’s resignation as the Caps’ coach on May 14 could have changed Halpern’s status, but it didn’t.
“When I played, I think I did exactly what was expected of me,” said Halpern, who had 16 points and a minus-1 defensive rating in 69 regular season games while skating almost exclusively on the fourth line. “It’s hard to put up big numbers when you’re not on the power play, but our line was rarely on our heels. We were usually skating in the other’s team end. I felt like we tilted the ice our way. Before I was scratched, I was ecstatic with how the year was going. We were making a playoff push and I was skating and moving around the ice better than I had in a couple of years.”
The taciturn Hunter, who had been one of Halpern’s hockey heroes when the latter was growing up in Potomac, talked with him two games into the benching and then never again.
“There weren’t raised voices, but I don’t think the move was justified,” Halpern said. “I didn’t expect it. George was a supportive as he could be, but I don’t have a relationship with Dale. Any player who’s not playing would be upset. I had a ton of emotions, but you have to be professional.”
Halpern, who had never been part of a playoff series victory during his previous 11 seasons with Washington, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles and Montreal, was enough of a pro to enjoy the first-round upset of Boston even though he didn’t truly feel a part of it since he hadn’t dressed for any of the seven games.
After not playing for nearly seven weeks, Halpern replaced the injured Jay Beagle for the final two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Rangers.
“It was great to get back out there,” Halpern said. “When you’re not playing, you start questioning a lot of things including yourself, but I was pretty happy with the way I played in those two games.”
So Halpern has no intention of retiring even though it will mean leaving home again after he ended a five-year absence less than a year ago.
“The way my second stint here ended was disappointing, but it was a thrill to be able to come back and play at home again,” said Halpern, who wants to coach once his playing days are history. “I love playing hockey and I’m still very confident that I belong in the NHL.”
We’ll see come the start of the free agent signing period on July 1 if some team agrees. If not, Halpern will still have had a remarkable career (358 points in 861 games) for a guy from a non-traditional hockey area, an Ivy League school (Princeton) and who was never even drafted.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin