BALLSTON, VA - New Washington Capitals forward Jeff Halpern is not really new to most Caps fans. A Potomac, Maryland, native and fan favorite throughout his six seasons in Washington (1999-2006), Halpern captained the Caps in his last full season, which happened to be Alex Ovechkin's rookie year. But Halpern, speaking to the media at Kettler Capitals Iceplex Wednesday, does not plan on taking over leadership duties.
"I don't think my role would change whether I had a letter on my jersey on another team or now," Halpern said. "I think I would carry out the same way, but it doesn't really matter who carries a letter. I'm coming into a new situation. I've played with a few guys here, but you don't want to come in and start ranting and raving right off the bat. You want to blend in and mix in. This is a tremendous group that's playing here and you want to add to it, you don't want to dig into it too much."
Halpern has spent the last five seasons with the Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Los Angeles Kings and Montreal Canadiens. And while he did not rule out a return to Washington at some point, Halpern definitely took advantage of the opportunity.
"Honestly, I said that the first team that would call, I'd jump on, but obviously, I've always kind of hoped to come back to Washington and the fact that they called, I was ecstatic," Halpern said. "It was a place I have great memories playing and I jumped on the opportunity to come back."
In his first stop with Washington, Halpern was a part of a few good Caps teams, but also a few bad ones. Halpern joined a Caps team two years removed from their only Stanley Cup Finals appearance and never made it past the first round. Since then, much has changed (including the uniforms, which have gone from black and copper to red, white and blue). Halpern said Wednesday that he did not regret leaving the Caps when he did when considering their evolution from a cellar-dweller to perennial Cup contenders.
"I think the biggest thing for me when you play, you want to see things grow," Halpern said. "And we had real good teams my first few years here and then we went through a couple lean years. You can start to see [Ovechkin's] first year, things starting to change and we hit rock bottom, I think, going into the lockout. And there was such good signs of improvement Ovi's first year and going into that next year. It's been interesting to watch this team go from where we were at the lockout to dominating the league pretty much year in and year out."
Another change has been the culture and atmosphere surrounding the fanbase. Halpern played to an empty MCI/Verizon Center for most of his years, but now the Caps regularly sell out. The fanbase is no longer complacent, but rabid, and Halpern is looking forward to the experience.
"This has turned into one of the best places to play in the league if you ask any player," Halpern said. "The players have given a product to people and they've responded to it. Since that's happened here, I've always enjoyed coming back to play. It'll be a treat to be on the other side."