- The Washington Times - Friday, July 1, 2011

On the eve of free agency, Mike Knuble knew exactly what he wanted the Washington Capitals to add to the roster.

“I’m always partial to more veterans,” he said Thursday.

All it took was one day of shopping on the free agent market for general manager George McPhee to make Knuble happy as the Caps signed 37-year-old defenseman Roman Hamrlik, 35-year-old center Jeff Halpern and 30-year-old right wing Joel Ward. As if trading for Troy Brouwer and bringing back Brooks Laich wasn’t enough, the Caps also added some serious character Friday.

“Jeff’s been a captain and it was nice to get all of them. Ward seems to be that way and Hamrlik’s been around a long time,” McPhee told reporters at a press conference at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “We just wanted good experienced players — committed players who do bring leadership. We’re really pleased. We didn’t think we’d get all three.”

Those were guys the Caps targeted, and McPhee pronounced the team complete. Some tweaks could still be coming, he said, but coach Bruce Boudreau pointed out that “what George did today was set the roster and let’s go.”

Laich spoke earlier in the week about a need for accountability. “It doesn’t matter how much you make or how long you’ve been here or what your name is,” he said. Undoubtedly that message is part of the Caps’ mantra going forward, as evidenced by grabbing Hamrlik, Ward and Halpern.

Halpern spent six seasons with the Caps from 1999-2000 through 2005-06 and was the captain during his final year in Washington. The Potomac native, who is on his honeymoon in the Bahamas, got a one-year, $825,000 deal to come back. McPhee said they have him penciled in as the fourth-line center — filling a void left by Boyd Gordon’s departure to Phoenix.

“Jeff liked the idea of going back to Washington and playing at home,” his agent, Mike Liut, told The Washington Times. “[The Caps] were essentially the first ones through the door. … It just made sense to him.”

Each of these three signings — and the trade of Semyon Varlamov to the Avalanche for first- and second-round picks — makes sense in one way or another for the Caps. In making the Varlamov move, they got value for a goaltender who wanted a starting gig and will get it in Colorado.

In signing Hamrlik — two years for $7 million according to TSN — the Caps got someone who can provide some durability on the blue line along with a mix of talents all over the ice. McPhee and Boudreau have blamed blue-line injuries for the loss to Tampa Bay, and Hamrlik might be the guy to replace Tom Poti, whose future is uncertain because of groin issues.

“With the uncertainty around [Poti’s] injury, we didn’t wanna go into camp down a D,” McPhee said. “We just saw Hamrlik as a guy that’s still got a lot of good game left. And he can defend and generate offense and that’s what we wanted a little more of.”

To see why the Caps targeted Ward, all you have to do is take a look at his playoff numbers. The 6-foot-1 winger had seven goals and six assists in 12 playoff games with the Predators this past spring, and McPhee was impressed by that kind of production.

With the Caps’ obvious weakness being playoff success — something Brouwer said Monday — Ward could be part of making it a strength. He’ll be counted on it, because he’ll earn $12 million over the next four years.

“I think the Capitals are very close to not only competing but winning the Stanley Cup,” Ward’s agent, Peter Cooney, told The Washington Times. “I look at Joel as one of the pieces that could help them get there.”

Notes — The Caps also signed minor league defenseman Sean Collins to a one-year deal. … Gordon’s contract with the Coyotes is worth $2.65 million over two years. … Marco Sturm left the Caps, signing a one-year deal worth $2.25 million with the Canucks.

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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