This offseason is shaping up to be a busy one for the Habs with still over 20 players needing new contracts. This is the fourth article of our series that will look at some of the pending free agents and assess whether they should be brought back and if they’re likely to return for the 2011-12 season.
It’s very rare to see the Habs sign a free agent in September but this past summer, they did just that when they inked Jeff Halpern to a 1 year deal. They were hoping that he would win some important faceoffs, play well in his own end and chip in with some offence. He did just exactly that and is hoping that his performance will get someone’s attention as he once again hits the open market.
Inside the Numbers
The most important number with regards to Halpern in his career has been his faceoff percentage. Heading into this season, he had a better than 50% success rate on the draw every year of his career. In 2010-11, he posted his best single season mark just at 56.9% which put him up toward the top echelon of the league. Point wise, it was a tale of two seasons for the veteran pivot. Although he put up his highest point total since 05-06, most of them came in the first half of the year. (He had 16 points from October 7th through December 10th and just 10 the rest of the way).
Argument to keep him
With most of Montreal’s centres being inconsistent at the faceoff dot, it’s nice to have that specialist to keep around. He also is a consistent player without a whole lot of peaks and valleys in his game. Though he surely did enough to earn himself a raise, he still would be a relatively cheap addition to the roster and would allow a prospect like Andreas Engqvist a little more time to round out his game in Hamilton. Although he is getting up there in age, he showed last year that he can handle more than a typical 4th line role (though everyone was happy when he was moved out of a top-6 role). If the Habs are going to be looking for a veteran to be that 4th line centre, it’s likely better for them to dance with the devil they know than the one they don’t.
Argument to let him go
After re-signing Mathieu Darche (for those wondering, this was originally supposed to be a column about him) who likely is earmarked for a 3rd/4th line role, do the Habs really want to bring another aging veteran onto the club? With Gomez, Plekanec, Desharnais, and Eller already in the fold (plus Engqvist who at this point has a very good shot at making the team), they probably don’t have room for another C. He struggled down the stretch and got injured twice (once missing several games, the other coming at the end of the playoffs) so there are health concerns as well.
As strange as it may seem, his value is one of the harder ones to predict. If a team values what he brought to the Habs (or if Pierre Gauthier wants to re-sign him), then he’ll likely sign early into free agency. In that case, his value could rise to around $1 million or so. If history repeats itself and he finds himself unsigned just before training camp, his asking price will once again have to drop to the point where he could very easily sign a deal the same as he is coming off of now (1 year, $600,000). If that happens, it will surely be a bargain.
The signs all seem to be pointing to Halpern parting ways with the team which does sadden me a little as his faceoff prowess is something this team will certainly miss. I do expect him to sit unsigned for a while but ultimately get a 1 year contract for a little more than what he received this year.