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Will comments made by Roman Hamrlik during the lockout have any carry over effect during the regular season
One item Adam Oates must address right away is whether there is a rift in the Caps' locker room between some of the players.
During the lockout, comments made by Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik set in motion a situation that could have ramifications for the Caps' locker room on the eve of the season opener.
For those who may have forgotten, negotiations had taken a turn for the worse right around Thanksgiving and a series of tweets from Hamrilik appeared through Jedlicka that questioned the leadership of Donald Fehr and the rest of the NHLPA, such as the following:
That was just part of the message. As reported by outlets such as SBNation, when all of the tweets were pieced together, the total statement from Hamrlik certainly suggested there was dissension in the ranks amongst the players:
I am disgusted. We have to push Fehr to the wall to get the deal. Time is against us. We lost a quarter of the season, it is $425 million. Who will give it back to us? Mr. Fehr? There should be voting between player. Four questions—yes or no—then count it. If half of players say lets play, then they should sign new CBA. If there is no season, he should leave and we will find someone new. Time is our enemy.
In the wake of such incendiary comments, there was little question that replies of all varieties would be forthcoming. And the replies from Hamrlik's teammates have to raise concerns that the Caps locker room might be divided.
Goaltender Michal Neuvirth vocally supported Hamrlik. Neuvirth told TVA Nova Sport of the Czech Republic via NBC Sports the following:
I agree 100 percent with Hammer. This lockout is not about majority of players, I think. It is about several superstars with big contracts.
Hamrlik and Neuvirth's comments were not well received by Troy Brouwer, one of the Caps' representatives to the NHLPA. Brouwer had a lot to say about the situation to the Washington Post's Katie Carrera:
For me, I think those guys selling us out, being selfish like that and making those comments …Me being on their team, how am I going to trust them as a teammate from now on? Because you know they’re not going to support players in the big scheme of things when you go and you play on the team with them; it’s going to be tough to want to back those guys from now on.
That is a troubling quote from one of the more respected members of the Capitals, no doubt about it.
Oates will have to address this situation right away. If the Caps' locker room is divided, the team's chances for success are not good.
He is going to have to sit down with all of these guys and get them to clear the air as to the comments and responses made. I suspect that with two veterans like Hamrlik and Brouwer, getting the two men to understand that things were said out of frustration should not be too big of an issue.
With Neuvirth though, that might be a bigger challenge. It was not just his agreeing with Hamrlik that is an issue. Neuvirth made some negative comments about both Braden Holtby and Alexander Ovechkin over the summer when Czech website iSport.cz conducted an interview with Neuvirth.
The interview was translated by several sites, and one in particular, Russianmachineneverbreaks.com, posted the interview.
Some of what Neuvirth had to say raised more than a few eyebrows:
It’s true that until now, I have never been an official number one. But I have played just over a hundred games in NHL. That’s nothing. I’m starting the season sure that I want to play forty/fifty games and I am really sure that I have the weakest competition (Braden Holtby) I’ve ever had. I will try to be number one goalie this season. Finally!
No, it is not good to have your goalies bickering like that just before a shortened season where Oates will have to count on both of them to carry the load.
But Neuvirth also took aim at the face of the franchise, Alexander Ovechkin.
In the same interview with iSport.cz, and as again translated by Russianmachineneverbreaks.com, Neuvirth had this to say about Ovechkin:
He isn’t what he used to be, that’s for sure. And if a team like ours wants to have a chance at the Stanley Cup, we need Ovi to be the best. We all expect that from him; he has to be the real leader. But it’s hard you know, he achieved everything as a player. He was on the absolute top, and then one can only fall down. I just hope that Ovi will stop falling and instead stops and maybe tries to get back on top. As for his attitude in the locker room, he is still the same guy. Even when it’s not working out for him, he is in a good mood, he celebrates with the others. He is the right team player. He will stay like that forever.
Now, to be fair, there were some concerns over how the interview was translated. Nevertheless, those are the types of comments—particularly the ones about Ovechkin—that can cause some real locker room discord.
Hopefully, Oates has already tried to smooth over any ruffled feathers.
If not, that locker room discord is just the sort of thing that could really hurt this team's chances this season.