ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. | Reaction to Roman Hamrlik’s criticism of Donald Fehr and the NHL players’ course during the lockout has been far and wide. Over the weekend, New Jersey Devils goaltender and future Hall of Famer Marty Brodeur weighed in, calling it a “sign of weakness” from the NHLPA’s perspective.
“Everybody has their own way of coping with things, but I think in the situation that we’re in and the hard work that people are putting in, I think it’s got to be [handled] internally,” Brodeur said. “And I don’t think he ever addressed it inside of our locker room as far as the PA’s concerned, and he has to go out in front of the media and then show a sign of weakness from a player that should know better at his age.
Asked if he really thought it was a sign of weakness for Hamrlik to speak out, Brodeur said “for sure.”
“When players talk about things that they don’t know, they’re not well-informed about it, it makes it like you’re not informed,” the 40-year-old said. “I think it’s your duty as a player to get yourself informed. And then if you don’t, you should just not talk about it.”
That was the most pointed criticism directed toward the Washington Capitals defenseman from players at Boardwalk Hall for the Operation Hat Trick charity game Saturday night. It wasn’t so much about what he said, but that he wasn’t speaking from a place of authority because he hasn’t been on conference calls or in on meetings.
“I think any one of the players is entitled to their opinion. I have no problem with that. But I think it’s important that you be educated and if you have a voice, voice that within the union,” said New York Rangers forward Jeff Halpern, who played with Hamrlik in Washington last season. “I think anyone would have that feeling; if you’re disgruntled, you don’t take it to the media. It’s the same as the way a hockey locker room works: You don’t air your laundry out in the public. You do it within yourself. And the fact that he chose the media as opposed to within the union to voice that is very disappointing.”
This is the 38-year-old Hamrlik’s third NHL lockout. He has remained in Montreal instead of returning to his native Czech Republic.
But his comments to Daily Sport in the Czech Republic, which included his being “disgusted” with the process and a claim that Fehr should be out as executive director if the season is lost, did not garner many positive reactions from younger players.
“It’s tough to hear. I think you’ve seen with some of the other players’ reactions, guys who have been to meetings, at least the majority of the meetings and are really understanding what’s going on,” Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. “If you know what’s going on, you’re not going to be saying those comments. It’s sad to hear that, but at the same time, it’s only one or two comments, and the good thing is we’re unified and we have everyone on the same page, and we’re going to support each other through this whole process.”
Fellow Caps defenseman John Carlson said, “I’m not going to talk about that” when asked about Hamrlik’s comments.
Stamkos said, based on conversations with older players, that this is the most informed players have been during a work stoppage. Because of that, so many are quick to defend Fehr against comments such as what Hamrlik offered up last week.
“When you know what’s going on, I think you look at it as a small distraction,” Philadelphia Flyers enforcer Jody Shelley said. “We’ve got to stay where we’re going and try to get the deal done. We’re trying to get the deal done. That’s what we’re trying to do. We want it done. And Don is trying everything he can to get it done.”
Saturday evening, speaking to reporters in the lobby of Caesars in Atlantic City, Fehr defended Hamrlik’s right to free speech.
“Democracy can be a bit of a messy process sometimes. But if you believe in free speech and you don’t believe in censorship, and you believe everybody’s entitled to their opinion, they speak it,” Fehr said. “And sometimes it’s what they mean; sometimes people get angry and frustrated and they vent. And then you talk to them, other players will talk to him from time to time, staff will talk to him and make sure you get the questions answered.
“We don’t believe in censoring anybody. We don’t believe in telling anybody they can’t come to meetings and see for themselves. We’re different than the owners.”
Sidney Crosby told Pittsburgh media on Hamrlik: “It’s his third lockout. He’s probably got a couple of years left. For this to happen, he’s probably beyond frustrated. Everyone has the right to say what they want. It’s impossible for everyone to feel the exact same way.”
Shelley said he considered it “part of the process” for some guys to speak out. But he said it’s important for all players, not just Hamrlik, to have an understanding of what’s going on.
“Maybe he doesn’t know, [maybe] he needs to have a conversation with Don or someone in the know because you would think that there’s thought that the union’s kind of shaken,” Shelley said. “But when you speak with Don and the guys in the meetings and they report exactly what’s going on and you hear the plan, it really settles you down.”
With the lockout more than two months old, settling down might be hard to do. But that’s why so many players said Hamrlik and others should get on conference calls and attend meetings and collective bargaining talks.
“No one’s happy that we’re not playing, but you have to understand what’s going on and you have to be on the calls and you have to voice your opinion within the group,” Halpern said. “He has every right to be entitled to his opinion.”