The Washington Times - April 3, 2013, 06:00AM

The Washington Capitals are in talks to sign forward Matt Hendricks to a new contract, though it’s uncertain if something will get done before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.

Along with center Mike Ribeiro, the Caps have a few role players set to be unrestricted free agents this summer. None does as much for the team as Hendricks.

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He can play all three forward positions and is a key penalty killer and shootout specialist. Hendricks can drop the gloves, but coach Adam Oates doesn’t want him fighting because he’s counted on to win short-handed faceoffs.

“He’s got a lot of heart and plays really hard,” linemate Jay Beagle said recently. “He’s obviously a great team guy, everyone knows that, and a great guy to have in your locker room. He steps up every night.”

Hendricks will be 32 by July, when the unrestricted free agent market opens. He’s looking for something of a long-term commitment from the franchise that not too long ago gave him his first one-way contract.

Hendricks is in the final season of a two-year deal that pays him $825,000 annually. Given that he has played on the first line at times and filled so many different roles, he figures to get a substantial raise.

Agent Michael Wulkan, who has had conversations with the Caps’ front office for a while now, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about getting a deal done.

Hendricks would like to stay in Washington, but that will likely take something beyond two years. Brandon Prust’s four-year, $10 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens might be a good comparison; the forward was 28 at the time he signed the deal after a season with five goals and 12 assists. Extrapolate Hendricks’ numbers over an 82-game season and he’d have 16 points on nine goals and seven assists.

Hendricks has won 58.5 percent of his 188 faceoffs this season. He’s second to Beagle among Caps forwards in short-handed ice time at 68:23. And he’s 9-for-13 in the shootout in his career, his 69 percent success rate best in the NHL among those with at least 10 attempts.

Hendricks’ road from minor leaguer to gritty NHLer made him the Caps’ Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy nominee in 2010-11. He has spent some time on the first line alongside Alex Ovechkin this season, and that versatility hasn’t gone unnoticed. If the St. Cloud State graduate reaches unrestricted free agency, there are at least a couple of teams who would jump at the opportunity to add his skill-set.

One of Hendricks’ skills is fighting, which helped him climb the ranks in professional hockey, but ex-Colorado Avalanche teammate and friend Cody McLeod once told him to fight less. Caps coach Adam Oates agrees with that notion.

“Hendy, I’ve talked to him like: ‘I know you like to fight, but you’re a penalty killer. You’re a guy that takes faceoffs; I need you on the ice,’ ” Oates said.

As of Tuesday night, the Caps and Hendricks’ camp weren’t close on agreeing to a new deal. But that can change at any moment.

Hendricks said March 19 that contract negotiations were the least of his concerns as he concentrated on his job and winning games.

He suffered a scratched eye in Washington’s victory over the Carolina Hurricanes that caused him to play just four shifts in the last two periods. Oates said Hendricks was OK.

“He’s obviously tough,” Beagle said. “It takes a lot to get that guy out of the lineup. For him not to come back, he’s got to be almost half-dead. We know that he’s a hard-working guy and a heart guy. That’s what he does.”