Theme: ”No one can avoid aging, but aging productively is something else.”
-- Katharine Graham
(click pic for larger image)
When Roman Hamrlik was signed by the Washington Capitals, he was described thusly:
“He's got postseason experience, he's another offensive option for the blue line… Hamrlik is the kind of veteran upgrade you need to make a Cup run.”
By February, he was a healthy scratch and was being shopped in pursuit of a trade.
Then, he returned the lineup for the 13 of the last 15 games, had three assists, and was a plus-10. He followed that up by going 1-3-4, plus-8 in 14 playoff games.
If you play the game long enough, or if the season lasts long enough, you might pretty much see it all.
It was almost as if Hamrlik experienced his entire 19-year career (including this one) in the 2011-2012 season. After all, he played for a struggling team early on in his career (as the Caps were early this season), over which he was a minus-121 in his first 418 games of his career. He was a minus-12 in his first 23 games with the Caps this season.
But just as he used the experience of his later career to build a solid resume (63-227-290, plus-75 in his last nine seasons before this one), he had a solid close to this season – 1-11-12, plus-21 over his last five ten-game segments covering 42 games. By the end of the season he not only was still a Capital, he was arguably the team’s most consistent defenseman.
His experience was perhaps most telling in his home/road splits. Hamrlik was 1-6-7, plus-3 in 33 home games. Not especially noteworthy – rookie Dmitry Orlov had more points; Mike Green was almost as good at a plus-5 in barely half the home games played (17). Jeff Schultz had as many goals at home, and Schultz has as many career goals (in 373 games) as Hamrlik had in just the previous two seasons (154 games). However, while Hamrlik was not a prolific scorer on the road (1-5-6) his plus-8 was by far the best among his defenseman teammates.
The odd part about Hamrlik’s performance over the course of the year was quality of competition. It was not of particularly high quality. Among the eight defensemen playing in at least 20 games for the Caps this season, only two defensemen – Dmitry Orlov and John Erskine – faced a lower quality of competition than did Hamrlik at 5-on-5 (numbers from behindthenet.ca). The comparatively easier competition no doubt influenced his having the highest relative Corsi value among this group of defensemen, although the save percentage on ice was hardly impressive (.921 – sixth among the eight defensemen).
Conversely, though, Hamrlik’s offensive zone start percentages at 5-on-5 were higher than only the “defensive” pair of Karl Alzner and John Carlson. This suggests, either by design or circumstance, a greater reliance on Hamrlik in the defensive end of the ice. He did have some relief from this burden in his relatively lower quality of competition faced, but on the other hand the quality of teammates with whom he skated was comparable. Only Erskine and Karl Alzner had lower values at 5-on-5.
Hamrlik’s was an odd mix of numbers, rather different in many ways from what he left behind in Montreal after the 2010-2011 season. Here is how those numbers compare with this past season:
Odd Hamrlik Fact… Little things. Among defensemen playing in at least half of the Caps’ games this season, Hamrlik had the most blocked shots per game, the most takeaways per game and the best takeaway-to-giveaway ratio.
Game to Remember… March 29, 2012. It was a game that would foretell the future as an example of “Hunter Hockey.” The Capitals headed to Boston in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, two points behind Buffalo for the last playoff spot. In what would be a hard-fought effort that was a mere warmup to the first round series they would begin just two weeks later, Hamrlik skated 24:16 (his high for ice time for the season), had three shots on goal, and led the team in blocked shots with four in a 3-2 Gimmick win at TD Garden. With the win, the Caps passed Buffalo for eighth place and remained among the playoff-eligible through the end of the regular season.
Game to Forget… November 26, 2011. A lot of Caps would like to forget this game, but for Hamrlik it might have been especially worthy of a memory lapse. In his previous game he was on the ice for three straight goals against the New York Rangers that put a game out of reach in a 6-3 loss to the Blueshirts. Against the Buffalo Sabres in this one, he was on ice for the first three Sabre goals in what would be a 5-1 blowout, leaving him with having seen six goals up close and personal in an eight goals-allowed stretch. He was a minus-6 over those two games, his worst stretch of the season.
Post Season… This is a bit of a mixed bag for Hamrlik. His top end numbers – 1-3-4, plus-8 in 14 games – look rather solid, especially since goals came at such a premium for both sides in the Caps’ playoff run. But here is the odd part of his performance. He was third among defensemen on the team in shorthanded time on ice, but it was when he wasn’t on the ice in those situations that is perhaps most interesting. He took six minor penalties in the 14 games; on none of them did the opponents score a power play goal. He was on ice for three of the six power play goals scored against the Caps in the post-season.
In the end… It is difficult to reconcile the numbers into a coherent whole other than to think that Hamrlik spent much of the early part of the season in search of a role. He is not an “offensive” defenseman in the sense Mike Green is (or was). He is not a shutdown defenseman in the sense Karl Alzner and John Carlson were used in that role. In the last third of the season he seemed to settle into a role as a steadying influence – a “straight man,” if you will – for his partner, a defenseman who by virtue of his experience could make for a reliable second-pair.
He appeared to have an especially positive effect on the play of Mike Green in this capacity, and it makes one wonder what lies in store for that pair next season (assuming Green is: a) re-signed, and b) does not suffer any further recurrences of injury). This past season they played in only 22 games together to a combined 4-7-11, plus-12. The Caps were 15-5-2 in games where both Green and Hamrlik dressed. If the Caps are set on their top pair with Karl Alzner and John Carlson, a second pair of Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik could give the Caps a solid top-four defense with which to pursue success next season.