He has become the latest player at the centre of the NHL’s nasty lockout, now in nearly its 70th day.
Roman Hamrlik. Former first overall pick. Current 38-year-old Washington Capitals defenceman watching the last year of his contract fritter away in the third lockout of his career.
A Czech language interview with Hamrlik published by Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday became the story of the day, as the veteran NHLer said he was “disgusted,” called out union leader Donald Fehr and wanted to put the league’s proposal to a vote.
“If half of players say let’s play, then they should sign new CBA,” Hamrlik said. “If there is no season he should leave and we will find someone new. Time is our enemy.”
The comments sparked widespread outrage from his fellow NHLPA members, with the most prominent of that coming from Erik Cole, who called it “The most selfish thing I’ve heard during the lockout.”
On Thursday, Hamrlik said in an interview with The Globe and Mail that while he wasn’t taking back his comments, he also wants it made known he will support whatever the players decide.
His frustration, however, is over the 130 or so games (and counting) he has lost in his 20-year career to labour disputes.
“This is nothing against any of the players,” Hamrlik said. “I stand with them. We are all together in this. And we want a great deal. A fair deal. Everybody’s losing in this right now. Owners, players, fans.
“The fans are the reason for hockey. Some cities won’t be able to recover their fans for future seasons. I just want to say I’ve been in the league for 20 years and faced three lockouts and there’s only 14 other guys that have done that. I believe I’ve earned the right to say what I think.
“If someone thinks I’m selfish, I may be, but it’s selfish to play hockey. Like everybody else, I want to win the Cup with the Capitals, or at least have a chance.”
As for his comments on Fehr, Hamrlik recanted slightly, saying that for now he backed the NHLPA leader but that he wished negotiations had started in January instead of July.
“About Fehr, I just think time is against us,” he said. “We need the solution. I think this is a fight between two groups that have too much pride.
“I still support Fehr, but we the players we need to push him more to get the best deal possible, as soon as possible. That’s what I think... How many more weeks, how many more months can we wait?”
Hamrlik has apparently been a bit of a lone wolf throughout this lockout. Several players and agents pointed out Thursday that he has been making similar comments about taking a deal in private the past few months.
One said that he explained to Hamrlik how the 2004-05 lockout led almost directly to him signing a $22-million, four-year deal in 2007, a contract that likely would not have been available had the league’s early offer of a very low salary cap been accepted early in negotiations.
While his comments haven’t made Hamrlik many friends on the players’ side of things, many fans have taken them up to mean at least one player has come to his senses and is willing to settle.
It remains to be seen if those on the ownership side view them as evidence of the players potentially “cracking” with negotiations at a critical point.
Here are a few more of Hamrlik’s thoughts on the situation:
- On Cole’s comments: “I don’t have anything against Cole. I mean he’s a good guy. He has his opinion like everybody else, but I’m a little bit disappointed about what he said. I think he’s got three years left on his contract and I’m sure he got a nice signing bonus this summer so he didn’t sacrifice anything. I’ve been in the league for 20 years.”
- On other players feeling like he does: “They should. Like I said, I’m standing behind Fehr, but we want to play hockey. Everybody should be mad. I’m frustrated. I’m disappointed. We signed Fehr because he’s the best and we believed him so get the deal done. In 2004, there was some dirty politics, I would say, people went behind Bob Goodenow’s back and everybody lost. Now we’re in almost the same situation.”
- On if he’s worried he may have played his last game in the NHL: “In 2004, 241 players were lost to the lockout. I mean, I can sacrifice. But like I said, this is my third lockout. I think I’ve sacrificed a lot. We’re all lucky. We’re hockey players playing professionally... I’m grateful to play the game. I still have some energy and want to play one or two more years and that’s it. But this is for my future. I could be done. I mean, who knows? If I can sign one more year, I’ll be lucky.”
- On Gary Bettman: “Bettman, he is who he is. I don’t like him. But there’s no time. We’re losing time. If we started in January, we have six, seven months to make a deal... I’m not going against the players. I am with the players. But I’m just talking from my experience. That’s all.”