Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Welcome Back, Halpern

Tomorrow, as I'm sure every devoted Caps fan knows, marks the return of our hometown boy, Jeff Halpern. There is a lot of buzz among Caps bloggers, DC and Dallas media, and of course the message boards about Halpy's first steps on Verizon Center ice since leaving for Dallas - some have forgiven him for leaving; others are looking forward to booing him off the ice; and there are many who really couldn't care less.

For me, tomorrow night's game will be bittersweet.

While I am looking forward to watching Halpy play again it will be tough to see him in the opposition's jersey, harder even than the first time Bondra came back to town as a Senator. I loved Bondra, don't get me wrong. But Halpern was absolutely my favorite player during his time here. I loved his grit, his feistiness, his willingness to take on guys twice his size. I loved that he could be a pest and I loved that he could chip in the occasional pretty goal.

But my favorite time watching him play was during the three years that he shared a line with Steve Konowalchuk and Ulf Dahlen. Together the three of them formed the ultimate checking line - no offense to the CBS line, but nothing holds a candle to what that combination generated on the ice. Their hard work and offensive production often saw them going up against other teams' top lines, yet they still consistently finished among the league leaders in +/- totals. They were just fun to watch - there's no other way to describe it. They could hang on to the puck for ages, wearing out the opposition before finishing them off with a nice goal or a well-timed body check. At the very least they were good for some facewashes and some "friendly" words. It was heartbreaking to watch the line break up following injuries and, later, trades - I don't think Halpern really ever played the same for the Caps after Kono and Dahlen left.

There are many people, myself included, who were surprised at Jeff's decision to sign with Dallas in the offseason. I had convinced myself that he would be buried in a Caps jersey, that his number would someday hang from the rafters at Verizon Center, and that he would hoist a Stanley Cup in front of the Caps faithful. I was upset, first at the Caps then at Halpy.

How could he leave me?

I know now, though, that his leaving was the best thing for everyone involved (and it's not just about me...that was hard to accept). He had lived out his childhood dream of playing for and becoming captain of the Capitals, but I think he knew it was time to move on. Halpern, never the fastest skater on the ice, really wasn't fitting into the new Caps team that was developing around him; there were a lot of young, gritty forwards in the Caps system who could maybe produce a little more, who maybe had faster legs or a harder shot. The Caps weren't going to pay what he was capable of getting on the open market but Dallas was; they weren't going to make a serious run for the Cup for a few years at least, and Dallas looks poised to do so very soon. And it is, after all, a business first.

The move of Halpern opened the door for a new captain in Clark and a new crop of young players who can get more ice time and more chances to step up. For their part, Dallas seems enamored of their new addition. Halpy has only two goals this season but both are game-winners - not bad - and he has been reunited with his old friend and linemate, Ulf Dahlen, now an assistant coach for the Stars.

I'm trying to sound mature and well-adjusted about this, but believe me - there is a little ache when I read about his success in his new city. I've never been good at change (so being a sports fan was a good call, right?) and despite my understanding of the hockey side of things I still wish Halpy was a Capital once more.

There is talk among some people about booing Halpern - to boo or not to boo, the eternal question with returning ex-Caps. For me it's easy; I boo Jagr and no one else, especially my Halpy, and I hope others will follow suit. He gave us 6 good years and I think he deserves nothing less than a warm welcome home. Rest assured, I'll be there tomorrow night cheering the Caps on to victory but proudly wearing my #11 Halpern jersey.


Biff said...

I also enjoy giving it to Sergei Gonchar. Not because of any percieved injustice, but just because he signed with the Penguins. Unforgivable.

CapsChick said...

Okay, yes - I'll give you Gonchar. Although that one almost seems to warrant the Larry Murphy "Woop Woop" experience more than booing, doesn't it?

Netsrak said...

"I had convinced myself that he would be buried in a Caps jersey, that his number would someday hang from the rafters at Verizon Center...."

Oooh, the ultimate Mike Gartner snub!

CapsChick said...

Damn. I forgot Gartner wore #11 - I'm a bad Caps fan. Okay, so maybe they retire the number twice...?