Theme: “The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.”
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
On June 20, 1992, in Montreal, Roman Hamrlik was drafted first overall in the NHL Entry Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. First among 264 players drafted. Nineteen years later, Hamrlik is the “dean” of that draft class, having played in the most games (1,311). He is also among the most traveled, with stops in Tampa Bay (377 games), Edmonton (196), the New York Islanders (300), Calgary (126), and Montreal (312). He has been to the post-season 13 times, where he played another 97 games. All those games in all those cities over all those years. He has yet to play in a Stanley Cup final.
And now, at the age of 37, Roman Hamrlik, seeing perhaps his best chance to win a Stanley Cup, signs with the Caps. Does he still have gas in the tank? Well, in four seasons in Montreal, he did not fail to play in at least 75 games (312 of 328 overall). In that time he was 22-97-119, plus-39. And as to the little things, he was a top-five among defensemen in blocked shots in three of those four years in Montreal. He also did it playing a consistent amount of ice time, an average of almost 23 minutes a game and over those four years ranging from a total of 1,755 to 1,778 total minutes. Only John Carlson skated more total minutes with the Caps last season.
Last year, Hamrlik was a respectable 1-7-8, even in 30 games against Eastern Conference teams making the playoffs. He was third among Canadien defensemen in quality of competition faced at 5-on-5 (behind fellow vets Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek) and was second in plus-minus/on ice at 5-on-5. There is a flip side to that, though. At 5-on-5 Hamrlik had the highest frequency of offensive zone starts among Canadien defensemen playing in at least 50 games (51.6 percent), but yet had a negative Relative Corsi value (which, oddly enough, was third best on the team). The numbers at odds here did not seem to affect outcomes very much; his 2.05 goals against/on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 was second best on the team (all numbers from behindthenet.ca).
The picture painted here is a veteran who has maintained a solid and consistent, if unspectacular level of play as he skates toward the later stages of his career.
Fearless’ Take: There were four defensemen in the NHL aged 37 or older on February 1st (Hamrlik will not turn 38 until April) who played in at least 50 games last season. All of them scored at least 18 points, three of them averaged at least 20 minutes a game (the exception being Sean O’Donnell), and three of them finished in plus territory (the exception was Nicklas Lidstrom of the Red Wings at minus-2). There is still room for contributions from hockey’s equivalent of late middle age.
Cheerless’ Take: Uh, cuz? There were only seven defensemen in the entire league who dressed for at least one game aged 37 or older, and three of them appeared in fewer than 50 games. That’s out of 304 total. And, in 13 playoff seasons, only once did a team for which Hamrlik played reach a conference final. His teams won only four of 17 series in which he has played.
The Big Question… Does Hamrlik really have gas left in the tank?
As a player approaches 40, that becomes a question that might be asked at the dawn of each season they are still in the league. But the consistency of Hamrlik’s performance in his four years in Montreal, especially in skating at least 21:55 per game in each of those four seasons suggests there is something left. He is not likely to have to assume that burden in Washington, but having the capacity to do so in the event circumstances require it is an insurance policy against injuries on the blue line. And, as an added plus to consider, his 4.47 points per 60 minutes of ice time at 5-on-4 was better than any Capital playing in more than 40 games.
In the end…
There is an element in Hamrlik’s resume that lies outside the boundaries of numbers. It is captured in a June 2011 column by Pat Hickey in the Montreal Gazette…
“[A] plus for Hamrlik is that he has been an effective teacher in the latter stages of his career. He has helped in the development of [P.K.] Subban and [Josh] Gorges in Montreal and, before that, tutored Dion Phaneuf in Calgary.”
The Caps still have four defensemen – Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Mike Green, and Jeff Schultz – with almost 400 fewer regular season games’ worth of experience than Hamrlik. He could have ample opportunities to be an “effective teacher.” If the “multiplier” effect of his ability to impart his 1,300-plus games of wisdom on four young defensemen is his only contribution, it could prove valuable for the Caps in the spring. But there is little except age – it’s just a number – to suggest that there is a likelihood that he will suffer diminishing capacity in his ability as an NHL defenseman. One with an opportunity for a Stanley Cup.
Projection: 78 games, 5-23-28, +8
(Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)