77 GP: 5 G, 21 A, 26 Pts, 38 PIM, +7, 129 Shots
Career best year – 1995-96 – Lightning
82 GP: 16 G, 49 A, 65 Pts, 103 PIM, -24, 281 Shots
12 GP: 1 G, 2 A, 3 Pts, 8 PIM, -3, 15 Shots
Career best playoffs – 2001-02 - Islanders
7 GP: 1 G, 6 A, 7 Pts, 6 PIM, -6, 21 Shots
Plays of the game: 4
Game pucks: 3
3 Star selections: 1 First, 3 Second, 2 Third
Where he started the season
Hamrlik was our biggest and best free agent signing of the summer in a year that Gainey promised to improve the team by means of the UFA. We were originally targetting Rafalski (likely along with 29 other teams), but, as usual, Detroit got the pick of the litter. Roman was certainly one of the best of the rest, however, when it came to defenceman as the former #1 overall pick brought almost 1000 games of NHL experience. Before the free agency began, we had singled out Hamrlik as the consolation prize to Rafalski, so were quite pleased to come away with him on the day.
His career had received quite a big boost in the past 2 seasons as he was the player given the responsibility (or priviledge) of playing alongside Dion Phaneuf – something which was both attractive and costly to the Habs. Hamrlik also seemed genuinely excited before the season to continue his career in Canada, as he made that his priority when looking for teams. The Habs wouldn't ask too much of Hammer to start the season as he was penciled in as our #2 D-man, playing on the second unit.
The big Czech defender would start the season alongside another NHL veteran, one that he would always have to be extremely careful with – Brisebois. If there is one thing that comes to mind from the start of the season, it was how Roman was able to cover up so many Breeze-By-Blunders with solid, responsible play. In his first 12 games in a Montreal uniform, he hit the 1000-game mark, scored a game-winner, had 8 points and was a +5. I think it was at this point we all realised that we had found a gem. His excellent play (in both ends) would last the rest of the regular season as we finally had that #2 defenceman we had longed for. He would play with a variety of partners which included Brisebois, Streit and O'Byrne. In Streit, he had an excellent offensive partner and found his best partnership of the season. In O'Byrne, he had a new protege and surely was a big reason why Ryan enjoyed so much success this year. In Brisebois he had extra practice at playing man-down.
Towards the end of the year, Roman missed 5 games in a row due to an illness and his absence was surely felt. We managed only two wins in that span, and one of those was in OT against the lowly Panthers. He played in all of our playoff games, but like so many of our other players was not at his best. The problem was that in the playoffs he failed to elevate his game to the level that so many of the Flyers' and Bruins' players did. He wasn't bad, but it made me realize that 'regular' just doesn't win Cups.
Highlights: How refreshing to see some defensive zone highlights from a number 44
Hamrlik by the numbers: Canadiens.com
Lions' links on Hamrlik:
Hammer proved to be a very solid pick for the Habs as the move addressed a need we'd had for some time. Convincing ourselves that Souray or Rivet were top-flight defencemen was always something that (unlike the team and most fans) I couldn't bring myself to do. What Roman brought this year was consistency, experience and leadership. Qualities such as these are hard to come by in the NHL and, in my opinion, are on par with skill and natural talent. He was able to play huge minutes all year, he quarter-backed our second PP unit and proved to be an exceptional penalty-killer. His physical play this season, especially towards the end of the year, was also very good.
One thing that I noticed from him was his ability to recover from certain situations better than anyone else. For example, when he makes a mistake in his own end, gets caught too deep or misses a hit he could always be counted on to get back on the play and clean up anything that may have gone wrong. Another quality that he has is the uncanny ability to make his partners look better than they are. His play is so solid that often he can do the work of 2 defencemen.
Where we'd have him next season
Roman is signed for another 3 years which is a very comforting thought. He is clearly still our #2 defenceman and will likely keep that spot this season. Komisarek's play is improving, but let's not forget the value of playing with Markov. If Hamrlik played with Andrei all year I am sure you would see an even superior version of an already excellent defender. With Streit's departure, I would expect Hamrlik's PP minutes to go up, but I wouldn't expect that to take away from his PK or even-strength time. He is so valuable in all situations that he will undoubtedly be asked to play 23-25 minutes / game again this year. With a year in Montreal now under his belt, I think you will notice him taking an even bigger leadership role on this young team. He has such a wealth of experience that his value beyond the ice cannot be underestimated, especially on a team so rich with so many young, talented, defensive prospects.