Roman Hamrlik officially parted ways with the Calgary Flames yesterday but he's staying in Canada.
At least during the winter months.
The 33-year-old defenceman signed a lucrative four-year contract worth $22 million with the Montreal Canadiens, who are unlikely to retain the services of their own UFA blueliner Sheldon Souray.
Souray reportedly turned down the same offer before Hamrlik pounced on it. The deal will pay the Czech an average of $5.5 million a season.
Staying in Calgary was his first choice but remaining in hockey-mad Canada was a major factor in Hamrlik's decision.
"Unfortunately I wasn't able to sign with the Calgary Flames. Too bad," he said on a conference call yesterday from his home in Zlin, Czech Republic. "I got a few offers from teams in the U.S. but I told my agent I'd love to play in Canada.
"It's great hockey. Players should appreciate it -- the fans, the organizations, the media -- everything is there."
Hamrlik's agent Petr Svoboda, who just put the finishing touches on Robert Lang's agreement with Chicago before being reached by the Sun, said the Flames wanted to bring Hamrlik back but wouldn't commit to more than a couple of years.
"They were interested in re-signing Roman but only for a shorter term," Svoboda said. "I just told them that basically that might not do it. I told them if Roman decides to go shorter term, I'll get back to (GM Darryl) Sutter. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for Roman ... he liked the four-year deal."
The location and lore were too much for Hamrlik to pass up.
"Especially with the money being right," said Svoboda, who told the Sun last week the market for defencemen dictated a substantial raise from the $3.5 million per season his client made with the Flames following the lockout.
"And Montreal, like Calgary, it's a great organization. It was hard for Roman to leave but at the same time we know how it is nowadays -- the players are moving from team to team every year. It's unfortunate."
Hamrlik had seven goals and 38 points in 75 games last season after an injury plagued debut with the Flames in 2005-06.
The Flames rounded out their likely opening-day group of seven Sunday by inking former Tampa Bay Lightning rearguard Cory Sarich for $18 million over five years.
Fellow defenceman Brad Stuart, and UFA forwards Tony Amonte, Darren McCarty, Jeff Friesen and Byron Ritchie aren't expected to return.
The signing of winger Owen Nolan yesterday gives the Flames 11 forwards, six defencemen and a goaltender under contract.