Jeff Halpern was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington in 1999. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Montreal Canadiens likely never envisioned Jeff Halpern would be contributing the way he is this season when they signed him to a modest free agent contract late in the summer.
It’s just too bad they need his production so desperately.
Halpern has been doing everything for the Habs, all for the meager cap hit of $600,000. He’s the team’s best faceoff man, winning 56.4 percent of his draws. No other Hab who regularly takes faceoffs is above 50 percent.
The fact Halpern has been a boon on the defensive side of the puck comes as no surprise. That’s what the Canadiens had in mind when they signed him, ostensibly to fill the role Dominic Moore played last year for about half the money Moore got from Tampa Bay. What has raised eyebrows is the way Halpern is contributing offensively, notching four goals and 10 points in 14 games to tie Andrei Kostitsyn for second in team scoring. Halpern has shown some touch in the past, but at 34 years old, most believed his best puck-burying days were behind him.
Halpern has twice hit the 20-goal plateau in his career, the last occasion coming during the 2007-08 campaign, which he began in Dallas and finished in Tampa Bay. The Maryland native then sustained a serious knee injury while playing for Team USA at the ’08 World Championship, forcing him to miss much of the following NHL campaign.
After a couple forgettable years, the steady center is back on his feet in Montreal, playing between Benoit Pouliot and Mathieu Darche on what’s become an effective line for the Canadiens.
Scoring from that trio should be considered a bonus, but it’s become a necessity with the much-talked about struggles of Scott Gomez, who has a pitiful three points to start the year, not to mention the sputtering power play, which is ranked last in the league at 6.4 percent efficiency.
The Canadiens have a tough schedule ahead and desperately need Gomez - and just about every other offensive player - to get in gear. If that happens and Halpern can keep up his strong play, the team will go from having a dearth of scoring to some unexpected offensive depth.
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This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.