When Roman Hamrlik said he was “disgusted” with the lack of progress in the NHL’s labor negotiations, and that the players’ union should replace Don Fehr if he cannot broker a deal to end the lockout, it was the equivalent of throwing a hand grenade into the Capitals locker room.
It didn’t help matters when Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth said he “100 percent” agreed with Hamrlik and added the lockout was about “several superstars with big contracts.”
Predictably, the backlash from teammates was swift and pointed.
Troy Brouwer, the Capitals’ alternate union representative, questioned whether he could trust the two Czechs as teammates. Alex Ovechkin said he was “disappointed” with Hamrlik and completely disagreed with his position.
Perhaps that’s why Hamrlik and Neuvirth are now in damage control mode. Hamrlik, who is in the Czech Repubic, has already made a conciliatory phone call to Brouwer in Chicago.
And on Tuesday Neuvirth sent out this apologetic tweet:
I am sorry for what I said,lot of emotions and frustrations are going on! #respect— Michal Neuvirth (@mneuvirth30) November 27, 2012
At times, the NHL lockout has brought out the worst in those who care the most. But can those emotional comments really divide a locker room? If the lockout comes to a merciful end, will the Capitals be a fractured union?
Team mediator Karl Alzner says no.
Speaking Monday night on 106.7 The Fan, the Capitals’ 24-year-old defenseman said he may not agree with the opinions of Hamrlik and Neuvirth, but he doesn’t see them being divisive when and if the Capitals reconvene.
“It is what it is,” Alzner said “… You’re not always going to be best friends or get along with everybody you play with. It’s almost impossible with different personalities. But when it comes down to playing and doing what you have to do, it’s going to work out.
“I can guarantee you that when you’re on the ice and if Troy has the puck and he’s skating down 2-on-1 and Hamrlik’s got a wide open net, Troy’s not not going to pass.
“The tensions are high; guys are frustrated. Certain guys see it differently than others. A lot of comments have been made that people might like to take back or re-word. I don’t think it’s going to be anything serious or anything that carries over. It’s just guys going at it and it’s kind of funny to hear it because everyone wants to voice their opinion.”
Asked specifically about Neuvirth’s assertion that the lockout is about the game’s highest-paid superstars, Alzner said he disagrees – diplomatically, of course.
“I have absolutely no problem with people saying what’s on their minds or saying how they feel,” he said. “I agree that you can have your own opinion and say whatever you want.
“But in my personal opinion I wouldn’t say the big [salary] guys are just kind of saying we can wait and just let it play out slowly. I know personally that some of the guys I talked with, it’s not so much about the paycheck; it’s more just about playing. They want to be out there doing what they love, being on the ice and being competitive.”
Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, who like Brouwer is a staunch supporter of the NHLPA, was also diplomatic when asked about Hamrlik and Neuvirth publicly criticizing Fehr.
“They have a right to say what they think,” Crosby told reporters in Pittsburgh. “To be honest, to get 750 guys to have the exact same outlook on every single detail is pretty tough. Pretty much impossible.”
And so now the owners and players are hoping federal mediators can achieve what Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and the Fehr brothers have not.
Labor peace, the Capitals are learning, often comes with a price. Alzner is hoping the Caps have paid their share.
“I want it to be over and I want to be told when it’s over,” he said. “…I still think something’s going to get done. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.”