WASHINGTON – The Capitals wanted to do all of their shopping in one day. In doing so, they added three 30-somethings to fill out a talented young roster in need of a bit more veteran leadership.
In a very busy opening to free agency Friday, Washington signed defenceman Roman Hamrlik, right wing Joel Ward and centre Jeff Halpern. The Capitals also narrowed their pool of up-and-coming goaltenders from three to two by trading Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche.
Capitals general manager George McPhee said he felt he didn’t fill all the holes last summer, forcing him to make deals at the trade deadline. This year, he’s confident he already has the roster that could take the ice in the playoffs next April.
“I wanted to have that feeling this summer where everything’s done,” McPhee said. “We can go with this team right now. We don’t have to touch a thing all season. We could go the whole season with this group.”
Hamrlik signed a two-year deal worth US$7 million. The 37-year-old Czech has played for five teams over 18 NHL seasons and ranks second in games played (1,311) and fourth in goals (153), assists (471) and points (624) among active NHL defencemen.
The three-time all-star had five goals and 29 assists with the Canadiens last season. McPhee said Hamrlik could be a partner for high-scoring defenceman Mike Green and was signed in case Tom Poti is unable to return because of injuries.
Ward gets a four-year contract worth $12 million. The 30-year-old forward has played one season with Minnesota and three with Nashville, scoring 10 goals with 19 assists for the Predators last season.
Halpern is back for one year at $825,000. The 35-year-old forward is a native of nearby Potomac, Md., who made the Capitals as an undrafted free agent out of Princeton in 1999. He played six seasons in Washington and was captain during the 2005-06 season.
Halpern has since played for Dallas, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles and Montreal and has 142 goals and 200 assists in his NHL career. He had 11 goals and 15 assists in 72 games with the Canadiens last season. McPhee said Halpern will be the team’s fourth-line centre.
Locker room leadership has been a question mark for the Capitals as they annually roll through the regular season before making early exits in the playoffs. Friday’s signings, in addition to Tuesday’s six-year, $27 million deal to re-sign Brooks Laich, is meant to help create a different chemistry.
“We just wanted good experienced players, committed players who do bring leadership,” McPhee said. “We’re really pleased. We didn’t think we’d get all three.”
Varlamov, a restricted free agent, was sent to the Avalanche for a first-round draft pick in 2012 and a second-round selection in 2012 or 2013. The Capitals already have youngsters Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby in net, and McPhee said Varlamov was asking for too much during contract talks.
“He wanted to be, in his mind, guaranteed that he’s the No. 1 guy and be paid like that, and we couldn’t guarantee that,” McPhee said, “not with the competition we had at that position.”
The Capitals also re-signed defenceman Sean Collins, who spent most of last season with Hershey of the AHL. He appeared in four regular-season games with the Capitals in 2010-11.