Roman Hamrlik’s underrated contribution

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When Andrei Markov went down with a lacerated tendon during the Montreal Canadiens’ first game of the season in Toronto, many observers believed his absence and the lack of defensive depth on the blue line would erase any playoffs hope for the 2009-10 season.

Andrei Markov’s presence has proven to be invaluable for the Canadiens in the last few seasons as their record indicates:
Prior to this year without Markov: 7-14-3
This year without Markov: 14-14-2

However, this season a silent leader emerged among the Habs’ defensive corps of Jaroslav Spacek, Paul Mara, Josh Gorges, Hal Gill, Ryan O’Byrne, Roman Hamrllik and M-A Bergeron, to compensate the long-term loss of Andrei Markov. This leader is the Czech Roman Hamrlik, who along with his defensive partner and close friend, Jaro Spacek, has taken the bulk of Markov’s ice-time.

As a result, Hamrlik has averaged 24:48 minutes of ice-time per game (14th in the NHL) and 30.3 shifts per game (14th in the NHL). His offensive production (4 g, 9 a, 13 pts in 30 games) is on pace for 11 goals and 25 assists for 36 points, which would be his best offensive season as a Canadien. But Hamrlik’s contribution is predominantly in his own end. Hammer is ranked 3rd in the NHL with 80 blocked shots only behind Brett Clark and Dennis Seidenberg. Spacek is 14th, Gorges is 16th and Mara is 26th in the league, which is quite impressive after the departue of last year’s leader Mike Komisarek, who had 207 blocked shots (Komisarek is now a Maple Leaf).

The 35-year-old rearguard has been a steady presence on the Habs’ blue line this season and now with the probable absence of veterans Paul Mara (shoulder) and Jaro Spacek (right knee), Hamrlik might have to shoulder even more responsibilities in the upcoming games, especially with the lackluster offense the Canadiens have this season. Jacques Martin’s pea shooting offense is ranked 27th offensively with a 2.40 goals for per game average, which doesn’t allow his team much leeway defensively.
The Habs' pea shooting offense

The Habs' pea shooting offense
Caricature by my buddy Patrick Laramée.

Hamrlik is also a key cog of the Habs’ special teams, which have improved a lot recently, going 3/9 (33%) on the power play, and 17/17 (100%) on the penalty kill during the Canadiens current three-game winning streak, their longest this season without going in overtime.

Currently in the third year of a four-year $22M contract, Hamrlik is proving his tremendous value to his team and finally shushing Bob Gainey’s naysayers.

Update: The Canadiens have recalled Swiss defenseman Yannick Weber from the AHL for tomorrow’s matcup against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Bell Centre. It’s Weber second call-up this season.

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