Jeff Halpern figured George McPhee and the Washington Capitals wouldn’t want him back next season. He just wanted to find an NHL team that did.
Halpern found it this week with the New York Rangers, signing a one-year deal worth $700,000.
“I was hoping that one person’s opinion would be different than someone else’s opinion,” he said Tuesday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “I’m happy to get an opportunity to go back to work and with a good organization and a good coach and a good team.”
Halpern, who turned 36 in early May, thought he had more hockey left in him after a season that included a long stretch as a healthy scratch that lasted into the playoffs.
But as other free agents inked deals, he was “pretty much waiting for a team to be interested.” When the Rangers called, the deal got done even before Alexander Semin and Mike Knuble found new teams for 2012-13.
“It’s a huge relief,” Halpern said. “It just makes the whole year more exciting knowing where you’re going and kind of already planning on being part of that team.”
Halpern figures to be a very specific kind of role player for New York as a fourth-line center, penalty-killer and faceoff specialist. Halpern was fifth in the league this past season in faceoff percentage at 58.3.
The Rangers will be his sixth NHL team during his career. But Halpern knows what he’s getting with coach John Tortorella.
Halpern played 19 games under Tortorella with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008 … and put up 10 goals and eight assists.
“I liked playing for him in Tampa and I’ve always kind of admired from afar the teams that he’s coached,” Halpern said.
This was Halpern’s second tour of duty with the Caps, lasting only one tumultuous year. But a lot had changed since his days as captain, and the veteran had no hesitation about what he was taking out of this experience.
“I think the biggest thing is just the relationships and the friendships I’ve made with the guys on the team,” Halpern said. “It was a great group; it was amazing coming back here and be able to play in kind of a new hockey environment. It’s a hockey crazy fan base. It’s a credit to the organization and the players. I enjoyed every part of it.”