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Hamrlik gets release, signs 2-year pact

The ordeal is over. At 11:45 a.m. Wednesday, 18-year-old defenseman Roman Hamrlik officially became a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Hamrlik, the No. 1 pick overall in June's entry draft, signed a two-year contract with a one-year option.

The deal will pay him $1.4-million ($300,000 signing bonus, $300,000 salary for 1992-93, $350,000 salary for 1993-94, and $450,000 salary for his option year, 1994-95). He could also make about $100,000 in bonuses based on performance and NHL awards won.

Hamrlik will be the second-highest-paid rookie in NHL history, although the jump to No.

1 is huge: Philadelphia Flyers center Eric Lindros signed a six-year, $21-million deal in July.

What does Hamrlik plan to do with his first paycheck?

"He's going to buy me a car," said fellow Czechoslovakian Rick Lanz, a Lightning defenseman who has been translating for Hamrlik since he arrived in the United States for the first time on Sept. 8.

Lanz was joking, but Hamrlik did say a car, probably a Mitsubishi 3000, tops his list.

Hamrlik won't have to worry about missing his family. His parents, who were at the game Wednesday night, are going to move to the Tampa Bay area and live with him for the first year. Hamrlik also has a brother, Martin, who is playing for the Springfield (Mass.) Indians in the Hartford Whalers organization.

With the media present, Lightning general manager Phil Esposito and Hamrlik each signed the contract in the Lightning's locker room.

Hamrlik was a bit relieved.

"I was nervous and basically a little bit confused," he said. "I am extremely happy it is all taken care of. I look forward to playing."

As of Tuesday, it was uncertain whether Hamrlik would be able to suit up opening night. His NHL contract had been agreed upon. But the Lightning had not secured his release from ZPS Zlin, his team in Czechoslovakia.

Late Tuesday night the Lightning finally received the release papers. Zlin, which had demanded $400,000, agreed to accept $200,000 over three years.

After Hamrlik signed the release papers Wednesday morning, the Lightning faxed them back to Zlin and sent $75,000 (the first payment). About an hour later, Zlin faxed back the papers with its lawyers' signatures, clearing the way for Hamrlik to sign with Tampa Bay.

"You have to give Phil credit for persevering to get this done," Hamrlik's agent Michael Barnett said. "Look at the other expansion team (Ottawa). Their No. 1 pick (Alexi Yashin) is still in Russia."

While it is fairly common for 18-year-old forwards to play in the NHL, it is a much rarer feat for defensemen and goaltenders. Those are positions that usually require more experience at the NHL level.

Esposito said when he drafted Hamrlik that he didn't want to rush him into the NHL, but changed his mind after watching him play in the preseason (five assists in four games, plus/minus rating of +3).

"There's no doubt Roman can play now in the NHL," Esposito said. "Remember, he played in the elite division in Czechoslovakia as a 17-year-old against guys 33. He's ready."