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Veteran Roman Hamrlik Waived By Capitals
The defenseman, the active leader in games played after entering the league 20 years ago, had been a healthy scratch for all but four of the Capitals’ games this season.
BY ZAC BOYER
WASHINGTON – After sitting out the previous nine games, Roman Hamrlik was waived by the Washington Capitals on Tuesday before their game against Boston – a move that could mark the end of the road for the defenseman after a 20-year NHL career.
Hamrlik, 38, had played only four games for the Capitals this season as first-year head coach Adam Oates preferred to play his younger defenseman. He had an assist in the opener Jan. 19 at Tampa Bay, where he began his career in 1992, and played in each of the next two games before routinely becoming a healthy scratch.
The Capitals signed and recalled Steven Oleksy, a 27-year-old defenseman, late Monday night to take the place of Mike Green, who was placed on injured reserve with what is believed to be a groin injury. Oleksy was in the lineup and paired with Tom Poti against the Bruins.
Hamrlik took part in the morning skate Tuesday before he was waived. He had not addressed his situation in several weeks, last expressing his displeasure with not playing early last month, but Oates said Hamrlik has been respectful about it this season.
“He’s been great,” Oates said. “It’s not an easy situation. He got caught a little bit [when] we all struggled early, and Tom Poti came back and hadn’t played in the lineup in two years. Before he left he was a top-four defenseman, so depth chart-wise, it happens.”
Poti returned to training camp in January after the lockout ended fully recovered from a groin and pelvis injury that cost him nearly two calendar years.
The Capitals have also relied upon another rookie defenseman, Tomas Kundratek, who was recalled before the second game. Kundratek, like Hamrlik a native of the Czech Republic, has five assists and has, like Hamrlik, played a role on Washington’s power play.
Oates prefers to have his defensemen play on their natural side, which is why the right-handed Oleksy was recalled in favor of the left-handed Hamrlik is left-handed. Karl Alzner, John Erskine and Jeff Schultz have been the Capitals’ top three left-handed defensemen for nearly the entire season.
That has left Hamrlik without much of a role, even though he played in 68 games last season and each one of the Capitals’ 14 playoff games.
“In fairness, what I told him is, ‘You have a bad night, [and] everybody has a bad night,’ and I wouldn’t evaluate him on one bad night because that’s not fair to anybody,” Oates said. “But since the last few weeks, we’ve played much better hockey, so you can’t take a guy out of the lineup for one game. And he just hasn’t had his chance, and we haven’t had injuries back there that he’s got his opportunity.”
Hamrlik was set to make $3.5 million this season, the last of a two-year, $7 million contract. Any team placing a claim on Hamrlik must assume the remainder of that contract.
It remains unlikely that the Capitals would assign Hamrlik to Hershey if he clears waivers; because Hamrlik signed a contract after he turned 35 years old, his entire salary would still count against Washington’s salary cap even if he plays for the Bears.
The first overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft and the first selection in Tampa Bay’s history, Hamrlik is currently the league leader in games played. He spent parts of his first six seasons with the Lightning, and, in celebration of his return to the city for the season-opener, the team honored him with a 20-year commemorative poster on Jan. 19.
Hamrlik was traded to Edmonton midway through the 1997-98 season, then played four seasons for the New York Islanders, two in Calgary and four in Montreal before he was signed by the Capitals.
Should Hamrlik clear waivers, there’s still a chance, Oates said, he remains with the Capitals.
“We’re trying to do the right thing, and depending on what happens, nothing might change,” Oates said. “He might be here tomorrow. And if he goes somewhere, good for him. Good luck.”
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