- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

The primary owner of the Washington Capitals shed some light yesterday on the negotiations surrounding a new contract for center Jeff Halpern and why they remain stalled. And in short, it is not good news for the player.

Halpern, who has played two seasons in the NHL, is holding out and has missed 11 days of training camp. The Caps play the Stars tonight in Dallas and Tampa Bay tomorrow night in Houston.

A fan identified only by the screen name "Oriole83" sent an e-mail to owner Ted Leonsis "asking how I could justify paying [Dmitri] Mironov and [Dmitri] Khristich $3 million plus each and not giving Halpern $1.3-$1.5 [million]," Leonsis said. "It was a simple question, and I just said how Halpern is important to this team. He seemed to get defensive."

Leonsis acknowledged sending the following reply in an e-mail correspondence:

"Look, you don't know anything about deals; contracts; the Collective Bargaining Agreement of the league; his rights; or his [requests].

"So chill out. We will get him signed, but we just can't say, 'Sure, whatever you want, no problem.'

He shouldn't make more than [Steve] Konowalchuk or [Ulf] Dahlen.

"We didn't do the Khristich contract; he got it from Toronto because he had CBA rights because he played in the league for 10 years. Jeff doesn't have those rights. Sorry."

Halpern, the first native of the region (Montgomery County) to make it in the NHL, earned $510,000 last season and was asking for a new contract that would pay him $1.5 million this season, labor sources indicated. He has already rejected an offer of $1 million, very close to doubling his pay from last season.

Halpern centers a unit that has been called the best checking line in the league. Konowalchuk is the left wing, Dahlen the right wing. But both have a considerable amount of seniority on their center. Dahlen will make $1.65 million this season, his 13th; Konowalchuk will make $1.525 this season, his 11th.

"Oriole83" also refers to defenseman Mironov and right wing Khristich. Mironov was to make $3.5 million but retired due to medical reasons and has to settle with an insurance firm. Khristich is to make $3.25 million, but Toronto is picking up $750,000 of that tab.

Efforts to reach Mike Liut, Halpern's agent, were unsuccessful. Halpern is thought to be in Canada, where he is continuing his training with friends. Nobody in Caps management was available for comment on the matter, as is normal concerning contracts.

Where the negotiations go from here is not known. The Caps have expressed growing frustration with players holding out, then reporting weeks late and not in shape to compete. This has forced the Caps and other teams to put a physically unprepared player on the active roster while removing an individual who was contributing.

The threat of a season-long suspension, which was used by Ottawa against Alexei Yashin two years ago, exists if a team feels a point of no return has been reached. But that deadline may be extended in the case of a Halpern, who trains with a zeal that is hard to match.

What Liut and Halpern now may be hoping to settle on is a one-year deal that would make the 25-year-old Princeton graduate eligible for a salary arbitration hearing next summer. That way he agrees to binding arbitration, with the two sides presenting arguments.

During the past three months, Leonsis has obligated the team to two huge salaries: $20.7 million to right wing Jaromir Jagr, with negotiations underway toward a lengthy extension, and $31 million to goalie Olie Kolzig.

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