Jeff Halpern just wanted a second opinion. His season with the Washington Capitals didn't exactly go as planned, and it was obvious long before official confirmation in June that he wouldn't be back.
He got that this week from the New York Rangers, who signed the veteran center to a one-year deal worth $700,000. For the 36-year-old, it was relief to know he has a place to play next season on a guaranteed contract and that it was wrapped up this early.
"I was hoping that one person's opinion would be different than someone else's opinion," the Potomac, Md., native 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 will likely fill a specific role for the Rangers as a fourth-line center and faceoff and penalty-killing specialist. While he might have lost a step this past season, his 12th in the NHL, Halpern was still fifth in the league in faceoffs at 58.3 percent.
In New York, he's reunited with John Tortorella, who coached him for 19 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008. In those 19 games, Halpern had 10 goals and eight assists.
His production dropped this past season with the Caps, and he was banished to the press box as a healthy scratch for 12 of the final 15 regular-season games and all but the final two in the playoffs.
But Halpern will remember his second tour of duty in Washington for more than that frustrating stretch.
"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."
Johnson goes to Sharks
Jim Johnson was coach Dale Hunter's guy when hired as an assistant in late November. Not surprisingly, his tenure with the Caps was not going to continue beyond Hunter's.
This week he officially moved on, taking a new job as an assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks.
Amid a search for Hunter's replacement, Johnson did not get serious consideration from general manager George McPhee.
"We talked briefly with George about it. He had called me and said it looked like they were going to go in another direction," Johnson said in a phone interview. "At that point, I kind of knew I was not going to be interviewed for that position."
McPhee, whom Johnson praised for his professionalism throughout the process, granted Sharks general manager Doug Wilson permission to talk to him. By the time Adam Oates was named Caps coach, Johnson had already gone through a number of interviews with the Sharks.
"I really liked where it was going; I had a really good feeling of where it was going here but yet didn't really know if I was going to get the job or not," Johnson said. "When Adam was hired, things progressed with San Jose and I just thought it was a good opportunity for me at this point."
Oates said Monday he had not reached out to former fellow New Jersey Devils assistant and Hall of Famer Larry Robinson about joining his staff. Robinson took a job with the Sharks and will work alongside Johnson and Jay Woodcroft.
But Oates also admitted he has a good idea what kind of assistants he would like.
"Yeah, a little bit. George and I have talked a lot," he said. "We've put a list together, and we're still in the process. I'm sure he'll tell you guys when it's time."
One person close to Oates ruled himself out (again) Tuesday, as associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig reaffirmed his desire to remain in a part-time role so he could spend time with his wife and three children in Florida.
"Honestly I don't think I'm really prepared to be one yet. It's something I'm not committed to doing yet," Kolzig said. "Being an assistant obviously requires a lot of time at the rink, and I don't know if I'm read to make that commitment yet. I'm not ruling it out at some point maybe down the road, but I definitely need to first of all learn more."
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