This offseason is shaping up to be a busy one for the Habs with over 25 players needing new contracts. This is the third article of our series that will look at some of the pending free agents and assess whether they should be brought back and if they’re likely to return for the 2011-12 season.
When Roman Hamrlik was signed by Montreal in the summer of 2007, expectations were high as he was the replacement for Sheldon Souray who scored 26 goals the year before. Although Hamrlik didn’t put up that type of production, he instantly became one of the better defensive blueliners while still chipping in on the scoresheet here and there. Now he hits the UFA market fresh off his best offensive season with the Canadiens.
Inside the Numbers
Offensively speaking, although Hamrlik doesn’t put huge numbers he is pretty consistent, surpassing the 25 point mark every year since 1994-95. He has also been on the plus side in every year but one since 2000-01. In his stint with the Habs, nearly 75% of his points weren’t on the powerplay which means he is one of the few who actually do better 5-on-5. (This also means he can’t really help much on the powerplay now though). Money wise, he is coming off a deal that made him at the time the highest paid player signing from outside the organization in franchise history. (Andrei Markov’s deal was for $250,000 per year more but he already was with Montreal at the time.)
Argument to keep him
Hamrlik showed (at least until the end of the year) that he can still log significant minutes as he played the most minutes of any Hab defenceman in 2010-11. On a team that is shaping up to have some question marks (Yemelin, Weber) and players with minute limitations (Spacek, Gill), having another player who can log even 18 consistent minutes per game would be a plus. His offensive consistency is also a plus in terms of bringing a secondary offensive contribution behind the likes of Subban and whichever of Markov/Wisniewski get re-signed.
Argument to let him go
He was completely out of gas down the stretch; even though he’d likely be facing fewer minutes next season, the fact he’ll be 37 next season offsets that somewhat. There also isn’t a whole lot of room for him with Gill having signed earlier in the week. Would Hamrlik be content with a depth role after being a top-4 blueliner for most of the last 15 years? If the Habs want to be more mobile on the blueline, it doesn’t make a lot of sense having a third defenceman who is over the age of 35 on the roster.
Obviously, Hamrlik will be taking a pay cut, he even admitted as such earlier during the season. But how much of one will he get? As much as the ‘in thing’ for a lot of fans seems to be to rag on about the guy to no end, he still is a pretty good defenceman with a proven long term track record. Even if the Habs choose to move on, there will be several suitors for his services. The issue here as it was with Gill in his negotiations is the issue of a multi year deal or a one year pact. As Hamrlik will be 37 next season, a multi year deal would be subject to the dreaded 35+ clause (which surely will be a point of contention in the upcoming CBA).
If a team is willing to take the risk of a two year deal, I think it’s possible to see the cap hit drop to around $2.5 million, which still would represent a substantial drop in pay. On a 1 year deal, it would not surprise me in the least to see something in the $3 million range. He can log some important minutes, play top minutes in a pinch, and mentor the younger defencemen. Those elements are what will drive his value up come July 1st.
I think Gill’s re-signing is what ultimately will end Hamrlik’s tenure with Montreal, barring them finding a way to move Jaroslav Spacek’s contract before the end of the month. He had a good run with the Habs once you look at the whole picture and not just the struggles in the final weeks of the season and playoffs. With regards to what he’ll get on the market, I don’t think he’ll be able to get a multi year deal and will settle for something around $3-3.5 million on a 1 year deal. If someone can get him for less than that, it will prove to be one of the better bargains of the offseason.