Jeff Halpern remains an unsigned free agent, but the former Capitals captain isn’t ready to hang up his skates just yet.
“If something comes along, I’d definitely jump on it,” Halpern said last week in a phone conversation with CSNWashington.com.
“My price tag isn’t very high anymore. I feel like I can fit in anywhere, so I’m not saying ‘I have to play for this team or that team.’”
Halpern had five goals and 12 points in 69 games with the Phoenix Coyotes last season and is coming off his 14th NHL campaign.
He admits that not knowing if or where his pro hockey career will continue next fall makes for an “unsettling feeling,” especially with a third child due in September.
“It’s a little uneasy not knowing where I can end up and also you’d like to wrap your head around, logistically, where to go skate and where to play to get ready for the season.
“There have been a few conversations [with teams], but that’s about where it stops right now.”
Halpern, who played parts of seven seasons with the Capitals from 1999-2006 and again in 2011-12, has been down this road before.
The Potomac, MD., native did not sign with the Montreal Canadiens until the first week of September in 2010, and his one-year deal with the Coyotes was only finalized last October, once the NHL regular season was already underway.
“If you don’t sign within that first week [of free agency], there’s usually a long period of time that goes by until things start taking shape,” Halpern said. “Maybe it starts to pick up again at the end of August and heading into training camp, but I don’t expect too much to happen in the next little bit here.”
In the meantime, Halpern is continuing to train as he normally would during a typical NHL offseason, which in his case means two-to-three sessions a week with skating instructor Wendy Marco in Ashburn, Va., and regular meetings with his personal trainer in Georgetown.
“One of the knocks or misconceptions for me is that when players get older or hit their late 30s, the speed of the game passes them by,” said Halpern, 38. “But I’ve probably worked the last five summers specifically on skating and I’m probably happier with my skating and my speed now than I was as a 23-year-old. As long as I can continue to do those things, I’m happy with where my game is.”
Halpern joined the Coyotes last fall after a brief eight-game stint in Finland and quickly found a niche under head coach Dave Tippett, who trusted Halpern as the Coyotes’ fourth line center, relied upon to win key faceoffs and kill penalties.
Despite what he felt was a successful year in Phoenix, Halpern does not expect to return to the desert after the Coyotes signed former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Joe Vitale early in free agency.
“Especially at this point in my career, there are certain roles that I can fill, and one of the [similar] players who can fill that role is Joe Vitale. He’s a very good player and I think when you’re pegged in with certain roles and certain tasks and when teams fill those out, the writing is pretty much on the wall.”
MILESTONE WITHIN REACH:
Halpern said that he “would be fine” with a pro tryout agreement- essentially training camp invite with no guarantee of making the team. He also said that while he’s open to offers to play in Europe, “my heart and my intentions are still to play in North America.”
Halpern is also just 24 games shy of joining the NHL’s 1,000 games played club- a nice feather in the cap for the Princeton alum who signed with the Capitals in 1999 as an undrafted college free agent.
“I think 1000 games would be a tremendous honor in the NHL and something that when you set out [to start your career] you never imagine achieving something like that. It’s a number that I look at, I don’t think it will crush me if I never get to that point, I have a ton of great memories, but it’s definitely something that I’m aware of.
“I still love the game,” he said, “and I still enjoy playing.”