NHL Free Agency: Jeff Halpern Returns to Washington Capitals, Boyd Gordon Leaves

Jack SouleCorrespondent IJuly 1, 2011

Former Cap Jeff Halpern returns home
Former Cap Jeff Halpern returns homeMitchell Layton/Getty Images

Well, it looks like Washington Capitals' GM George McPhee is doing some significant re-tinkering of his team's roster.

Former Capital Jeff Halpern is now coming back into Washington D.C. to play for the Capitals in the Verizon Center. Halpern had just 11 goals and 26 points this past season but he is a great signing for McPhee and the Capitals.

Halpern is a great veteran grinding center who is also good on the forecheck. The 35-year-old is a true energy guy, role player and leader. Halpern played with the Capitals from 1999 to 2006 and captained the team in his last year with the team. 

Beside the intangibles of being a great leader, forechecker, backchecker and veteran presence, Halpern is also a faceoff specialist. He operated at 56.9 percent in the circle this passed season.

In similar news, Boyd Gordon just signed with the Phoenix Coyotes for two years at $1.3 million and $1.35 million per year, respectively.

It's unfortunate to lose Gordon as he is one of the true defensive specialists in the league and his abilities on the forecheck are seriously underestimated. Gordon is probably the best puck-protector I have seen in recent years. He is great with body positioning and using his body, which makes him uncannily efficient in his own end and on an energy line. 

Gordon is an excellent pick-up for Phoenix and an unfortunate loss for Washington. It looks like either McPhee didn't see Gordon as needed anymore or Gordon wanted a little bit more than McPhee thought he could afford. Gordon is an undervalued player—I'm glad to see him stick to his guns and realize what he's worth. He should be worth every penny Phoenix pays him this next season.

Defensive specialist Boyd Gordon leaving DC for Phoenix
Defensive specialist Boyd Gordon leaving DC for PhoenixBruce Bennett/Getty Images

With Gordon gone, Halpern looks like a replacement centering the fourth line—maybe even an upgrade. As great as I think Gordon is, personally, he was a minus-5 in the 2010-2011 regular season and tallied only nine points all season long. Gordon also posted exactly zero points in the postseason, whereas Halpern has nine points through 17 postseason games in his career. 

Gordon operated at 58 percent in the faceoff circle, just over one percent more than Halpern. The only other way in which this replacement hurts is that Gordon ate up over two minutes of shorthanded ice-time—Halpern averaged just over one minute of short-handed ice-time per game. The Caps also have a number of able-bodied penalty killers, so this shouldn't be cause for concern.

The two had almost identical numbers in blocked shots, TOI/G and takeaways. Gordon took a few more shots but Halpern dished out a few more hits.

All in all, both players are great grinders, but Halpern brings much more to the forecheck and points column. This is a great move and fits in well with the direction McPhee is going in upgrading his team's grittiness and consistency in third and fourth-line scoring and contributions.

Keep looking for McPhee to make a few trades and signings before October. 

McPhee traded this year's first round draft pick for negotiating rights with RFA Troy Brouwer. A qualifying offer was submitted to Brouwer—along with a few other players—although a deal for Brouwer has not been reached yet.

Brouwer looked to be a replacement for Brooks Laich, who was rumored to be on his way to Toronto. However, Laich was signed to a six-year extension on Wednesday.

So, as of now, the moves McPhee has made so far are looking very wise. With Matt Hendricks, Jason Chimera and Brooks Laich staying, Halpern and Brouwer being brought to Washington, Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon walking and there being the potential of a big trade, the Caps are beginning to look like a much more playoff-ready roster.

There could now be some interesting line combinations for Bruce Boudreau to tinker with this season. The first line could include any of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, Mike Knuble or Troy Brouwer on the right wing with Backstrom or Johansson at center and Ovie on the left wing.

The second line could feature Semin, Knuble, Fehr or Brouwer on the right; Johansson, Backstrom or Laich at center; and Laich, Semin, or Brouwer on the left.  

The third and fourth lines could feature any of Halpern, Jay Beagle or Matt Hendricks down the pipe with Beagle, Hendricks, D.J. King, Brouwer or Fehr on the wings. 

Regardless, the Capitals now have 13 forwards under contract for next year assuming Brouwer is locked up. However, look for McPhee to add another winger or two for the third or fourth line to replace Matt Bradley and add some more depth and grit. 

Ted Leonsis has also stated that the Caps' front office is planning on getting involved in a few trades. There is no information on who may be coming or going yet, but I get the feeling that Alex Semin's days in the District may be up soon. 

Although it is not likely, it is also possible that Green could be moved. If McPhee is serious about reforming the roster to be more serious in the playoffs and more fortuitous, then it may take moving Semin or Green and bringing in a 110 percent effort kind of guy or two. 

Look for another signing or two and a potential big-name trade. Some have also speculated that the Caps may go for a veteran backup goaltender since Semyon Varlamov has just been traded to Colorado

The thinking is that Braden Hotlby needs more time developing in the AHL and Michal Neuvirth is still too young and a bit too prone to injury to take full starting responsibilities. I disagree. Fans and critics alike have been criticizing the Caps goaltending for the last few seasons, but goaltending has never proven to be the issue with Washington's failures. 

Now, with Johansson developing well, the Caps may have their answer to their second line center problem, and Neuvirth and Holtby are developing well in between the pipes. The only problems left to address are grit, secondary scoring and a piss 'n' vinegar blueline. 

With Brouwer and Halpern coming and Laich staying the first two problems are well on their way to be solved. As for the problems on the blueline, we will have to wait and see what happens with Karl Alzner and Scott Hannan.

Stay tuned to Bleacher Report for updates and opinions on free agency so far.