Picking up a free agent can be a very risky move for a team. If it's a top-tier guy, the money he makes becomes a factor in determining how much other guys get paid and whether another player stays or goes in a cap-tight lineup. Even if it's a bargain-basement kind of addition, though, there's risk involved.
Usually, a team brings in a guy like that to do a specific job. He's got to be the solution to a problem. Can't win draws? Bring in a faceoff specialist for cheap. Need veteran leadership? Get yourself a guy who's been around. Problems with the PK? Find a low-priced defensive-minded forward. If he does the job you pay him for and doesn't cost a lot, he can be a valuable addition. If he doesn't, it costs a roster spot and a chance for a young player to develop, as well as wasted cap space.
There are intangible risks involved with adding any player. Nobody knows how a new guy will fit in, whether he's got the right attitude for the role he's hired to fill, or whether there'll be personality clashes with the guys who've been there longer. When you've got a team that becomes as tight as the Habs did in last year's playoffs, it's sometimes tough for a new player to fit in. It's really a crap-shoot, even knowing the player's history elsewhere. Sometimes you get a Sergei Samsonov or a Georges Laraque. Sometimes you luck out and get a Jeff Halpern.
Halpern is a more than pleasant surprise. When he signed with the Habs, he was supposed to offer a right-handed option up front, take some of the PK load off of Plekanec and win important faceoffs. He's done all of that, but nobody really expected the offensive contributions he's been making. Nobody could have dreamed of the impact his straightforward style would have on the development of young linemate Benoit Pouliot.
Halpern fits into a hardworking crew of veterans like Scarlett O'Hara into a corset. He's smart, quiet and gives an honest effort every night. Pouliot and Mathieu Darche are benefitting from playing on his wings because hard work will often generate second chances and dirty goals, and goals of any sort help build confidence.
It's great to see that line come together and have its efforts rewarded, as happened in last night's game. Those three players were almost entirely responsible for the two points the Habs acquired. Almost, because Carey Price had a pretty big part in the victory as well.
Price is playing some good hockey, although he's often the victim of the fairly frequent defensive breakdowns in front of him. Last night he made three or four huge saves to keep the game close and let his team come back to win. That's all you can ask of a goaltender, and Price is doing his part to help the team.
Right now, the Habs are scratching out points as best they can while hoping for the goal-scoring dam to burst for Cammalleri, Gomez and Gionta. The Canadiens have a good idea that there's better to come from last year's big acquisitions. While they're waiting for that to happen, Jeff Halpern is doing a good job proving he's one of the good guys.