By Adam Vingan
Compared to the rest of the Montreal Canadiens’ defensive corps at the start of last season, Roman Hamrlik wasn’t old. His fellow defensemen throughout the season – with the exception of four notable ones, including P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges – were all between the ages of 31 and 36. Players like Jaroslav Spacek (36 years old), Hal Gill (35), Brent Sopel (34) Andrei Markov (32) and Paul Mara (31) along with Hamrlik gave the Canadiens one of the NHL’s most experienced bluelines.
When Hamrlik arrived in Washington July 1 after signing a two-year, $7 million contract, however, he was old. Factoring in Tom Poti’s absence and Scott Hannan’s departure, Hamrlik, 37, is the oldest defenseman on the Capitals entering the season by six years; John Erskine is the second-oldest at 31 years old. The next oldest is Dennis Wideman at 28 and the number continues to shrink until John Carlson, who is at the tender age of 21. Yet, for Hamrlik, age is just an issue of mind.
“It’s not much different from my view,” Hamrlik said. “It’s just age. Here I am, I’m the oldest defenseman. To me, it’s just a number. The plus is I’ve got more experience than the other guys and hopefully they can learn something.”
Hamrlik arrived in the NHL amidst much pomp and circumstance when the Tampa Bay Lightning selected him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 NHL Draft. Through the early stages of his career, Hamrlik was more offensive-minded, joining the rush and playing the role of quarterback on the power play. As he got older, however, he transformed his role into something more defensively-sound. Before long, Hamrlik’s roles had reversed; he was the stay-at-home defenseman responsible for staying back while his defensive partner joined the rush.
“Physically, it’s easier,” Hamrlik said in regards to playing a more defensive style. “It’s up to the player, too. When you read the play, if I have a green light, I’m sure I’m going to jump in and create some offense.”
That steady presence was exactly what the Caps were looking for when they signed Hamrlik this summer. It was evident from statements made by both general manager George McPhee and head coach Bruce Boudreau that Hamrlik would be paired with Mike Green. As recently as Wednesday, Boudreau said that Hamrlik and Green are simply a “good fit” and Hamrlik’s experience nurturing young offensive defensemen like Dion Phaneuf with the Calgary Flames and Subban with the Canadiens surely factored into that decision. Hamrlik and Green have spent most of training camp and the preseason working together and the former already has high praise for his new partner.
“Mike Green, it looks like he’s the most offensively-talented player,” Hamrlik said when asked to compare Green to his most recent partners with similar styles. “He’s such a good skater, so he can cover both the front and back. We talked and I told him if he has a chance to join the rush, then I’m going to stick back. Like I said, he’s such a good skater. He can come back and help me with the defense, too.”
Hamrlik said that it’s too early to tell whether or not his new defensive teammates are the most offensively-skilled that he’s ever played with, but he is excited to join a defensive corps with such potential. According to Hamrlik, none of his fellow defensemen have really come to him asking for advice yet, but as the elder statesman, he hopes that his experience will come into play in their development.
“It’s been a pretty busy two weeks,” Hamrlik said. “Hopefully now that the season is going to start, we’re going to settle down and I’m sure we’re going to talk about details.”