Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hammer Time

Thankfully, Ovi can count on Hamrlik blocking other shots the next two years.
Among the most surprising moves made by Capitals General Manager George McPhee this offseason was the signing of free agent defenseman Roman Hamrlik.  The 37 year-old Czech defenseman signed a two-year, $7 million contract on July 1 after four seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, where he was consistently one of the Habs' most reliable players.  When George McPhee signed him, that was one of the words that he used several times addressing the media - reliable - and it's one of the things that Hamrlik can bring to the table in spades, providing he is healthy.  But reliability is not all that he can bring to the lineup regularly; he will certainly be useful for Bruce Boudreau's team in other ways.  Take a look after the jump.
For one, Hamrlik has been one of the best shot blocking, shutdown defensemen in the NHL over the last four years with the Canadiens.  Caps fans learned that the hard way when he completely shut down Alex Ovechkin in the final three games of that 2010 playoff series by getting in front of everything that Ovie threw at the net.  The Hammer proved that again this past season, blocking 192 shots in 79 games.  That number would have led the Capitals by 32 this past season, and was good enough for fourth overall in the NHL.  He also led the Canadiens in total ice time last year while compiling a +6 rating, which was second on the team.  Long story short - the guy eats minutes and blocks shots at even strength. Nothing wrong with that.
Does that mean that Caps fans can count on Hamrlik as a stud while on the penalty kill? Unfortunately, not.  Even on a Montreal blueline that was missing their best penalty killer in Josh Gorges for 46 games last year, he only averaged 1:56 per game on the penalty kill, which was sixth among the eight defensemen that played at least 30 games for the Habs.  Because the Caps lack a big time shorthanded specialist defenseman, he'll probably see time shorthanded ice out of necessity, but be warned: you may find yourself screaming at the television - unless Mike Green ups his penalty kill game bigtime.
On the other side of the coin, it Hamrlik has settled into the high-20s to mid-30s in terms of point output over the last six years.  Like most defensemen, Hamrlik does a god portion of his damage on the power play, with 15 of his 34 points last season coming with the man advantage.  He has a big shot and though he doesn't score a ton, the threat can open up passing lanes.  The fact that the Canadiens power play was able to run at 19.7% last season despite missing one of the best offensive defensemen in the league in Andrei Markov for all but seven games tells you something; Hamrlik knows what he's doing.
Does that mean that Hamrlik is all of a sudden going to score 50 points on the Caps power play?  No.  He's not that good.  But it does mean that the power play should be more balanced, and it will allow Bruce Boudreau to not play his top puck-moving guys like Mike Green (hopefully), Dennis Wideman, and John Carlson ridiculous minutes with the man advantage.  Decreasing their minutes on the power play will enable them to play more in other situations, or, in ideal world, not have to play those minutes at all and just rest from time to time.  Having another defenseman with PP skills may also finally convince Bruce Boudreau that Alex Ovechkin does NOT belong on the point of an NHL power play.  Maybe.

All of this being said, Hammer is certainly not without risks or negatives.  He's getting up there in age at 37 and is starting to lose his speed noticeably.  His contract has the potential to be a real albatross, too - but more so next season (hopefully).  I was not a fan of this signing when it was first announced, but now, looking back, it doesn't seem that bad.  As long as Hamrlik stays healthy and continues to eat minutes, the contract may just be the price of doing business.

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