Canadiens’ Erik Cole battles with Washington defenceman Roman Hamrlik in front of Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth last January at the Bell Centre.
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
To say that Habs forward Erik Cole is angry with Washington Capitals veteran Roman Hamrlik for the latter’s boat-rocking comments Wednesday would be to greatly understate the truth. Cole, not the least bit surprised the NHL rejected the NHLPA’s proposal earlier in the day, spoke candidly with The Gazette and HIO Wednesday evening.
• Author’s note: This story has garnered a great deal of reaction from the moment it was posted and has been picked up by various media outlets in Canada and beyond. My take on what follows: Roman Hamrlik sees what might be his final NHL season slowly slipping down the drain and he’s angry about that. Erik Cole is a fellow veteran who believes the lockout is bigger than any one player, the sacrifices made being for the good of the players still to come into the NHL. With careers generally short and a lot of money at stake, tempers during the lockout will be short and opinions will be widely divergent. That’s what the story below illustrates to me.
Locked-out Canadiens forward Erik Cole is happy that he’s not sitting in a suburban dressing room across from fellow NHL veteran Roman Hamrlik, a locked-out defenceman for the Washington Capitals.
It wouldn’t be a pretty sight.
Hamrlik made headlines from the Czech Republic on Wednesday as the first obvious wedge in the NHLPA’s battle with the NHL to produce a new collective bargaining agreement, the players having been thrown out of work since the league called the lockout on Sept. 15.
Hamrlik, the 38-year-old former Canadiens rearguard, gave an interview with Daily Sport in his native Czech Republic that more than rocked the NHLPA’s boat Wednesday.
In it, Hamrlik called out NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and, by extension, the NHLPA’s negotiating committee as the lockout lumbered through Day 67.
“I am disgusted,” Hamrlik is quoted in the interview, his comments translated by TV Nova Sport’s Roman Hedlicka and devoured by the hockey world in a series of tweets on the social-media Twitter platform.
“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 players. Four questions – yes or no – then count it. If half of players say let’s 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.”
From his upstate New York home, where he and his family will spend U.S. Thanksgiving, Cole was fairly bursting to offer his view on the point of view of Hamrlik, who might be hearing a loud ticking of the final year of his Capitals contract.
“I am bent on this one, yeah,” Cole, 34, said Wednesday evening, so angry that for the first minute or two of our conversation he spoke in phrases and half-sentences, stopping to reconstruct his thoughts.
“This (Hamrlik) is one guy out of 700-plus guys (in the NHLPA), this is the one guy who’s actually tried to have conversations with some of the guys we’ve skated with (during the lockout) and they’ve all just been, ‘Hammer, seriously, wake up.’
“For him to come out and say this, it’s the most selfish thing I’ve heard during the lockout. Without a doubt. It’s just disappointing. You’d think the veteran guys are the guys who’d take more pride in what other veteran guys sacrificed in the last lockout, how we all benefited from that as a group. Some guys never played again.
“That’s … I don’t know, for me, and I’m not over 35 or anything, but being an older player, (expletive), I feel grateful to the guys who gave me the opportunity to earn what I’ve earned in this game. Out of that I feel a responsibility, not entitlement. Maybe that’s just the difference between Hamrlik and me.”
Cole wouldn’t hear of Hamrlik’s comments, as reported in English, being the product of dicey translation or remarks that were taken out of context.
“If he (says) that then I wouldn’t believe him,” he said of Hamrlik, “because of the things he’s said previously to the guys who have been in the (barnstorming charity) Tournée des joueurs.
“Because of his conversations with Josh (Habs NHLPA rep Josh Gorges), some of the things he’s said to him in private conversations and Josh has been just like, ‘Is this guy serious?’ We couldn’t believe what his stance was on certain things.
“If he were sitting in a dressing room across from me tonight…” Cole said, the rest of that sentence off the record. “I’d be all over him on the ice. I’m pissed at him. If that’s his opinion, then he should just stay over there (in the Czech Republic).
“As a veteran guy, especially him, he’s been around awhile… other veteran players have sacrificed their careers for the last CBA, missed out on a year, 240 guys never played another game,” Cole continued.
“For me, I don’t look at this lockout and see what I’m not earning as the entitlement to, ‘Let’s get a deal done and let’s get playing.’ I see it as an opportunity to repay an opportunity that was given to me.
“That’s what this is supposed to be about, that’s what makes hockey players different. You sacrifice something for the people coming behind you. That’s where the respect factor comes in. Whoever’s kid is the best kid on your son’s hockey team, you want that kid to have the same opportunity that you’ve had. That’s what it’s about. Hamrlik is unbelievable.”
The Hamrlik story was only a subplot in a day that saw the NHL reject an NHLPA proposal that the players believed would seriously prepare the foundation of a new CBA.
Its rejection hardly surprised Cole, the Canadiens’ alternate player rep who was on a conference call Tuesday night in advance of the proposal’s presentation in New York, and another call after the league turned it down.
“It was basically another dismissal but (the NHL was) smart enough not to do it within 10 minutes,” Cole said, referring to the league’s rejection of three NHLPA proposals in Toronto a few weeks ago.
“They made it seem (Wednesday) as though they were contemplating so we’d not go to the fans and say, ‘They took 10 minutes again and then shunned our proposal.’ But they basically (rejected it) across the board. It clearly showed how close we are to having a deal done and they continue to view it in another light.
“And on top of that, on a lot of the stuff they were hinting at once this gets settled, that we’ll talk about player contract and rights, we’ll have some wiggle room, well, that’s not necessarily the case. So we’re stuck here again.”
There was talk during the day that a decertification of the NHLPA as a union would expedite a settlement. Cole dismissed that.
“That’s not something that we’re taking about,” he said. “People think it’s out there so it’s the next step but I don’t think so. We all have confidence in what Don is doing and how he’s handling our negotiation. There’s only so much this guy can do to put an end to this thing.
“I’ve said for awhile now the league have this thing well calculated, they know what they’re doing. Unfortunately for everyone else involved, it’s just a matter of time for us to sit here and wait and see when they finally decide that we’re allowed to play again.”
Cole isn’t on Twitter, but says a group of Canadiens have their own corner of cyberspace “that’s a little bit better than Twitter,” a lockout thread on which a player can text message another, the message available to all.
So while new Canadien Brandon Prust caused a stir with this tweet late Wednesday afternoon – “Gary bettman’s autobiography is in stores now. It’s titled ‘how I destroyed a sport and a nation’ ” – Cole read it on the players’ private thread, as he’s read about some of the other heated comments tweeted in recent days by a number of locked-out NHL players.
“Yeah, guys are legitimately mad,” he said.
Is this season toast? he was asked.
“Before today, we were saying, ‘There’s no way (owners) won’t take this deal,’ and we were thinking we couldn’t believe we can be starting up soon. But now guys are like, ‘That’s it, the season’s a write-off, these (owners) don’t want to play hockey this year.’
“Fast-forward about another month. If we’re sitting here just after New Year’s and it’s pretty much the same (in negotiations), I’d say it’s toast.”
Cole said he’s aware that some have been offended by the hat he had made up that reads “Puck Bettman/2012-13/NHL Lockout” and has been worn by a number of players in recent days. He’s had a conversation with the NHLPA about the hat, which he had privately produced for use by players.
“I wouldn’t call it heat,” he said of his communication with union brass. “I did receive a (PA) text, yeah, saying, ‘It’s probably not a good idea.’ I got a text saying we need to refrain from making personal attacks. I said that, technically, it’s not a personal attack, but rather voicing a small gesture of our displeasure. My thing back to the PA was, ‘Why can’t people see the humour in some things? This was more to lighten the mood of the guys.’ ”
That said, Cole said he won’t wear the hat in interview situations to avoid the perception that it’s NHLPA-approved.
“But I’m not going to stop wearing it,” he said, chuckling, “because it’s a pretty comfy hat, to be quite honest with you. I don’t see where it’s all that harmful to anything, quite frankly.
“Some of the messages I receive from people say it’s a legitimate thing and we probably could sell them to raise a lot of money for charity. That’s a possibility and I’ll look into it, that’s for sure.”