Roman Hamrlik this past week became one of the loudest voices of the NHL lockout. “Disgusted” with the process, he questioned NHL Players’ Association head Donald Fehr and called for a vote of 700-plus to get back on the ice.
In the process, he was supported by one Washington Capitals teammate, ripped by another and became a symbol of dissension within the ranks.
“You can’t crucify a guy for saying what he thinks,” said Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, whose first reaction to Hamrlik’s comments was to laugh. “You’ve got hundreds of other people, players, that don’t necessarily agree with him, and he’s going to get the backlash from it. But I don’t think you can worry about. It’s just his opinion.”
Goaltender Michal Neuvirth agreed with Hamrlik, telling a Czech news agency the lockout is “about several superstars with big contracts.” Still, that wasn’t a popular opinion around the league.
First, Montreal Canadiens forward Erik Cole took aim at Hamrlik in an interview with the Montreal Gazette. Then Caps alternate player representative Troy Brouwer explained he was upset with how Hamrlik handled the situation.
“He’s been through this three times before. He should know the ramifications of what guys say, and so for him to come out and say this, in a position that he’s in, I understand that he probably wants to play as long as he can, but he was a guy who was lucky enough to be a first-round pick, never played a game in the American Hockey League, always had everything easy for him,” Brouwer said. “And now he might be on the last couple years of his NHL career if he wants to play.
“Everybody wants to play. … You can’t be that selfish and just make comments as far as, ‘OK, I only have one year left on my deal, I don’t care what happens with the CBA because I’m not going to be a part of it anymore after this season.’ “
Hamrlik is 38 years old and has one season left on a two-year, $7 million contract signed with Washington in July 2011. It came as no surprise to Alzner, ex-teammate Mike Knuble and others that the veteran defenseman had a strong opinion.
And he made it no secret to others that he opposed this lockout.
“He addressed me several times that he was not happy what’s gone on with this CBA situation. I basically told him to talk to the NHL Players’ Association,” Hamrlik’s agent, Petr Svoboda, said. “It’s not the first time he’s gone through it. I know the guys are getting very frustrated nowadays.”
According to multiple people who have been closely involved on the players’ side, Hamrlik has not voiced his opinion to the NHLPA publicly.
While Knuble said Hamrlik has “earned the right” to voice his opinion, doing so without speaking up internally drew sharp criticism.
“He’s a guy that has not participated in any conference calls from the very beginning of the process. He hasn’t bothered to attend any CBA meetings. He hasn’t bothered to attend any NHLPA meetings,” said one agent who spoke on condition of anonymity. “His opinion is not shared by 99 percent of the other players.”
Brouwer agreed wholeheartedly with that sentiment, saying that other that Hamrlik and Neuvirth, the rest of the Caps’ players were all on the same page. And also disagreed with Hamrlik’s assertion that if the 700-plus players took a vote, they’d take the owners’ latest offer to play.
“We’ve had discussions about whether or not we want to accept their last proposal and it was overwhelmingly no. there was not one person that was on the conference call that wanted to accept the deal that they had put in front of us the last time,” Brouwer said. “Where these guys are making these assumptions, maybe it’s just them talking for themselves and not representing the PA, which is what the rest of us are trying to do because the deal that’s in front of us right now is something that’s going to hurt the association for years to come. It’s not going to be able to enable us to have any growth, any contracting rights, anything like that. As a PA we can’t accept that for ourselves or for future players going forth here.”
And while Hamrlik’s age and NHL experience adds weight to his comments, his being in the twilight of his career puts him in an interesting spot.
“He wants to make his money because he legitimately thinks this could be the last year of his career. He’s a guy that made already over $58 million over the course of his NHL career. NHL players sacrificed for him in 1992, in 1994 and in 2004 so he could make that $58 million,” the agent said. “And instead of showing his gratitude to the NHLPA and the sacrifices former players made for him, he’s motivated by his own self-interest. There’s always a few bad apples in a wise group that only care about themselves.”
Svoboda said as of Friday night he hadn’t spoken with Hamrlik since his comments to Daily Sport in the Czech Republic. And while he didn’t want to speak for his client, he stood up for him.
“I’ve known Roman for 20 years and he’s not a selfish individual,” Svoboda said. “I don’t tell my guys what to eat, what to do. … He’s a great teammate. He’s been a loyal NHLer through every [lockout]. It’s very difficult for me to say anything right now because we don’t know much about his situation.”
Hamrlik is not one of eight Caps players to sign overseas. Several others said they’ll remain in North America for a little while longer, possibly until the entire 2012-13 season is canceled.
It’s uncertain what Hamrlik’s next move will be. He did not respond to an email seeking comment. In an interview with Sportsnet 590 radio in Toronto, NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said he hadn’t spoken with Hamrlik or conferred with Don Fehr about the situation.
And while there was plenty of vitriol toward Hamrlik as the lockout approached its 70th day, Knuble said he was surprised the sentiment didn’t come out from a player even sooner, even if he disagreed.
“I think it’s only natural at this point, it’s been going on for three months or whatever, that some people are going to step out and voice their opinions,” Knuble said. “You have 700 guys, you have 700 opinions. And everybody has a breaking point and everybody’s going to wait and they’re going to say something when they feel they need to.”