Center Eric Belanger was one of three new faces (and one familiar face, that of Milan Jurcina) to join the Capitals at the March 3 NHL trading deadline. Along with veterans Scott Walker and Joe Corvo, Belanger came to the Caps that afternoon in one of four separate trades in one of the busiest deadline days in Washington’s franchise history.
Washington sent a second-round Entry Draft pick to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for the 32-year-old pivot.
Reunited with Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, who had coached him in the AHL a decade ago, Belanger totaled two goals and six points to go along with a plus-3 in his 17 games with the Capitals after the trade.
“Bruce is the same guy,” said Belanger after the season. “Since when I had him 12 years ago, there were a lot of new things he was doing. He is a lot more structured. He was good. He’s a player’s coach and he is good for this team.”
The notoriously steady Belanger notched career highs in 2009-10 with 26 assists and 41 points. He also recorded his first plus rating since sophomore season of 2001-02. He launched a career high 151 shots on goal despite averaging just 15:31 per night in ice time, his lowest figure since he averaged 14:33 as a sophomore with the Los Angeles Kings in 2001-02.
Belanger added a memorable chapter to Washington’s postseason lore in Game 5 against Montreal. After absorbing a stick to the mouth from former Wild teammate Marc-Andre Bergeron, Belanger lost eight teeth, including the one he pulled himself on the bench after the incident. He underwent significant dental work that night and in the following days, but returned to play later in the game.
“I’m having a hard time saying the right words,” he said, days after the incident. “I am going back to Minnesota and the [repair] process will start next week.”
Belanger had one assist in seven postseason games. He was looking to reach the second round for just the second time in his NHL career and the first time since his rookie season of 2000-01 with the Kings.
“It’s still tough to swallow but life goes on and hopefully we can be back at it sooner than later,” said Belanger of Washington’s premature playoff exit. “[During] the regular season this team had so much success. You get in the playoffs and there’s a lot of different things you need to do to have success. You know the way it’s been played. I’m not going to start pointing fingers. We’re a team. You lose as a team, you win as a team. There are a lot of quality players in this room and for some reason it didn’t work out.”
Belanger, who leads the NHL in postseason face-off win pct. at 66.7%, believes the pieces are in place for a Cup run here in Washington.
“A lot of the key players are still young players learning what it takes to win,” he says. “It takes a lot of different elements to win in the playoffs. I think sometimes you have to lose early as we did to learn and get better for the years after.”
Slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, Belanger would like to return to Washington in 2010-11.
“I had my meeting with Bruce this morning,” said Belanger on April 30. “I told him I had some conversation with my agent. They’d like to have me back, and I’d like to come back. My priority No. 1 right now is to try to see if we can get something done before July 1.”