- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

The Washington Capitals open their 28th training camp today, apparently without the only locally produced player who has made it successfully in the NHL.

Jeff Halpern, the 25-year-old Princeton graduate from Montgomery County who centered what the Hockey News called the best checking line in the sport, will officially become a holdout today. His contract expired at the end of June, and no agreement has been reached on a new deal.

Halpern is the only unsigned player the Caps have, although talks have begun concerning a contract extension for right wing Jaromir Jagr. J.P. Barry of International Management Group, who represents Jagr, was in town yesterday to watch his client go through his first drill with his new teammates.

"We talked a little bit today, and we'll continue to talk for the next few days and see where it goes," Washington general manager George McPhee said of his meeting with Barry. "He's actually here more to help Jagr out and keep an eye on his client."

McPhee described the talks as "exploratory." Jagr, obtained in a blockbuster deal with Pittsburgh on July 11, has two years remaining on his old contract, which will pay him close to $21 million. The Caps would like to get him signed to a new deal, extending his commitment to Washington for at least three years beyond his current agreement.

The Halpern holdout is a bit of a surprise. It had been thought Halpern's contract might be easily completed because of his local connections and the immediate contributions he made after four years of college hockey.

"The facts are the facts, what Jeff has done, where he is with the team, and I don't think we have a disagreement on that," said Mike Liut, the former Caps goalie who is Halpern's agent. "But obviously, we have a disagreement on the value of that."

"We will continue to talk and see if there's a contract to be done," McPhee said. "I don't know," he replied when asked if the two sides were far apart, "I never know in these things."

The center made $510,000 last season and was thought to be looking for a three-year deal that would pay him at least the average NHL yearly salary, now about $1.45 million.

Halpern returned late last week from the U.S. Olympic hockey team tryout camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., but missed informal team practices Saturday and yesterday, which is unusual for the highly motivated center. It was not immediately known where he intended to train while holding out; the Caps have a policy of not allowing unsigned players to work out with the team.

"These are never easy times," said Liut, who, like McPhee, is an alumnus of Bowling Green State University and a lawyer. "This is the other part of the business, not the part [the players] prefer to do. They prefer to play hockey, but by the same token this is something they have to address every two to four years. We're in that mode right now."

Liut also refused to characterize the state of the negotiations, other than to say "we're talking. It's going to get done. We have our differences, and we have to work to a resolution. I wouldn't say anything is imminent."

Efforts to reach Halpern were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, McPhee said there is nothing new to report on early contract talks with Brendan Witt. The defenseman is in the second year of a two-deal contract and would like to iron out a new deal before the season starts.


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