- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Instead of bulking up with players who have Stanley Cup-winning experience, the Washington Capitals got hungrier by signing four guys who never have hoisted hockey’s most prestigious trophy.

Interestingly, the oldest free agent the Caps brought in never has even sniffed the Cup. Or the conference finals. No, 35-year-old former Washington captain Jeff Halpern never in his 11-season NHL career has been on a team that has won a playoff series.

“It’s been frustrating because it’s a fun time of year, and you want to win so you can keep playing,” Halpern told The Washington Times in a telephone interview Tuesday.

But the Caps signed Halpern to a one-year deal worth $825,000 in the hope that he’ll fill a specific role and help them get well beyond the first round — snapping a drought for the Potomac native while also exorcising some franchise-wide demons.

Halpern’s playoff career has included back-to-back playoff losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins and then to the Tampa Bay Lightning while with the Caps the first time around, then back-to back defeats to the Vancouver Canucks while with the Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings and most recently a seven-game loss to the eventual Cup champion Boston Bruins. He said he was talking about it this past spring and realized something that leads to early playoff exits.

“I think the big thing you learn is little things that get exposed all add up,” he said.

Sounds familiar. Brooks Laich said as much a week earlier about the Caps’ second-round sweep at the hands of the Lightning.

“To win it, you have to play your absolute best in the playoffs, and I think our team is still growing,” Laich said.

Halpern’s role won’t be to pile up points, but the Caps envision him as their fourth-line center, faceoff specialist and a penalty-killer. On his honeymoon over the weekend, Halpern’s phone broke so he was unable to talk to general manager George McPhee or coach Bruce Boudreau about his role.

“I know I’ve missed some calls,” he said with a laugh. “I would imagine it’d be something like I’ve done in previous years.”

Newest Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik is familiar with Halpern, having played with him last season with the Montreal Canadiens. Hamrlik had nothing but good things to say about Halpern, who is considered a good “character guy” in the locker room.

“Teammates always like him,” Hamrlik said over the weekend. “He can bring especially things on the PK, and he can bring experience, too.”

Perhaps not a ton of playoff experience — just 34 career games — but Halpern knows the drill in Washington after spending six seasons here from 1999-2000 to 2005-06.

Being from Potomac, Halpern has kept a close eye on the Caps and their rise from D.C. afterthought to hottest ticket in town.

“I’m ecstatic. It’s a chance to win a Cup with an organization that I grew up with,” Halpern said. “And even though I haven’t been around, you always want to be part of something that grows.”

The organization has grown in terms of fan support — and winning, too. And despite his own bad luck in the playoffs, Halpern hopes he and his new teammates can help the Caps finally break through.

“The talent of guys that have been here is tremendous. They’ve been knocking on the door, and sometimes it takes a few tries,” he said. “I think everyone’s going to try to add to that mix.”

A mix Halpern hopes includes being on the winning end of a playoff handshake line — perhaps even more than once.

NOTE: It appears the Caps are looking for a new radio play-by-play man and that Steve Kolbe could be replaced. The team has a job listing up for “Director of Radio Broadcasting/Play-by-Play Broadcaster.” A spokesman said in an email, “We have expanded the scope and responsibilities associated with the Capitals radio play-by-play role to a new, full-time position.” Ex-Atlanta Thrashers play-by-play man Dan Kamal didn’t make the move to Winnipeg, and Hershey radio man John Walton could be a candidate for the job in Washington.

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

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