Earlier today, the Calgary Flames made a big splash at the Draft by trading for Dougie Hamilton – sending a trio of picks heading the other way to Boston. The assets you acquire at an entry draft are, almost always, untested and unpolished. You don’t know what they are, have vague ideas of what they may become, and in many respects you’re trading lottery tickets as much as you’re trading picks.
So in essence, the Calgary Flames trade a trio of lottery tickets for a really good young defenseman.
But now that the Flames have a shiny new toy for Bob Hartley to work with, there’s the question of what you can do with Dougie Hamilton and where he could be used.
LIFE IN BEANTOWN
In three seasons in Boston, Hamilton was used more or less how you’d expect them to. They sheltered him a lot in terms of zone starts and competition, and he split time between playing with Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara. There seemed to be some chemistry with Hamilton and Chara, so Boston’s coaching staff more or less sewed him to Chara’s side for the balance of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.
And since Hamilton seemed to do well against poor competition in terms of his possession stats, they ratcheted up his ice-time, the quality of his competition and gave him progressively worse zone starts. And his possession numbers remained strong, as he was able to use his size and skills quite well. He more or less progressed the way you would hope a player would in your wildest dreams; normally possession stats take a slight dip at some point when the heat is turned up, but Hamilton’s stayed very strong.
As you see here, Hamilton and Chara were thrown to the wolves in terms of their deployments. A good chunk of the team’s non-Krug/Trotman defenders struggled against middling competition, but Chara and Hamilton thrived.
RELATIVE TO CALGARY
How would Hamilton’s numbers fared in Calgary? Really well, even when corrected for the fact that Calgary is a bad possession team and Boston is a pretty good one.
In other words, in terms of possession stats Dougie Hamilton was to Boston what Mark Giordano is to the Calgary Flames. That’s incredibly valuable, in large part because the Flames only really had three players on the blueline that were positive possession difference-makers: Giordano, T.J. Brodie and David Schlemko. Now that they have added another, it gives them many options.
The big question regarding where Hamilton fits in regards what Bob Hartley wants to do in terms of match-ups and deployments. Last season he went with the familiar, leaning heavily on Giordano and Brodie because they were the only reliable NHL pairing to start the season. After a bit of shuffling, he settled on a second pairing of Russell and Wideman and, when Giordano went down, he switched them to tough match-ups. That was probably because T.J.Brodie was moved to a pairing with Deryk Engelland, and they didn’t want Engelland to drown against top lines.
If Hartley wants to try to create a top-heavy top two pairings, expect Giordano and Brodie to stay together, and Kris Russell to be paired with Hamilton. I don’t think the Flames really know how good Kris Russell can be, as he’s always been relied upon as the better player in every pairing he’s been in since he arrived. He’s been the responsible one, and as a result, I think his possession and counting stats have taken a bit of a kicking as a result. But when paired with Dougie Hamilton? With a big, physical, reliable partner, Russell could explode.
The Flames got a grim reminder of how teams need to be constructed in order to succeed in the NHL when they faced the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks were smart; they had three reasonably balanced defense pairings, and beat the Flames in part because they rolled lines and just grinded the series out. (It helps that they’re deep.) So if Calgary tries to fight fire with fire, they might try to balance their top six. In that case, maybe Brodie stays with Engelland, Russell stays with Wideman, and Mark Giordano gets a protege in the form of Hamilton. All three pairings would maintain a left-shot/right-shot balance, and the drop-off in skill between the three pairings wouldn’t nearly be as big as Calgary had throughout this season – when they had to use Corey Potter at times.
SUM IT UP
Where does Dougie Hamilton fit in? He could fit in anywhere, and he gives the Calgary Flames a lot of flexibility and depth on their blueline.
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