Updated, 12:45 p.m.:
Defenseman Roman Hamrlik’s Capitals tenure has come to an end, with the New York Rangers claiming the veteran off waivers Wednesday.
The 38-year-old Hamrlik had been a healthy scratch in 17 of the Capitals’ 21 games this season, the last in a two-year, $7 million contract. After Washington placed him on waivers Tuesday, other teams had until noon Wednesday to claim him and take on the remainder of his salary.
“It’s obviously very hard,” Capitals Coach Adam Oates said of Hamrlik’s situation. “He’s had a great career, and we all went through it. We all get old. He can still play in this league, no question.”
Hamrlik was caught in a depth-chart squeeze, as Tom Poti returned from injury, Tomas Kundratek picked up his play and Steve Oleksy was signed and called up from the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears. The Capitals had indicated that if Hamrlik went unclaimed, they would have kept him, instead of shipping him off to the Hershey.
“He’s the ultimate professional,” Poti said before news of the claim broke. “He hasn’t complained or sighed at all. He’s out there, he’s one of our hardest workers in practice and hopefully he does get picked and can continue his career. It’s pretty special when a guy can last for 20 years. You know you’re doing something right.”
Now Hamrlik will head to the Rangers, who need help on the blue line, especially after Marc Staal was hit in the eye with a puck Tuesday night in Philadelphia.
“He can handle the puck, he can make plays, he’s sound in his own end,” Poti said of Hamrlik. “I think just the veteran presence back there is huge.”
Hamrlik will return to Washington with his new team on Sunday afternoon.
The Czech Republic native, the first overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, played in four games this season, notching one assist. His last action came Feb . 7 against the Penguins, his only game since Jan. 24. Hamrlik played in 68 games last season, his first with the Capitals, and had two goals, 11 assists and a plus-11 rating. He added four more points during the club’s playoff run.