Dougie Hamilton: Give It Time

doug-funnie

Dougie Hamilton has been underwhelming in his first few weeks as a member of the Calgary Flames. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to stay underwhelming. No one is going to deny Hamilton’s first six games in a Flames uniform have been well below expectations. But I also think it’s premature to believe this won’t get better, and likely significantly so.

I don’t know if there’s a Flames fan alive who wasn’t excited when the team acquired Hamilton from Boston in late June. That excitement wasn’t misplaced. Hamilton is a good defenceman with enormous upside, and at 22, he’s just getting started. Things aren’t firing on all cylinders in Calgary yet, but I’m fully confident they will be. We just need to give it a little time.

It can be difficult to patient sometimes, especially when the excitement level for a player is so high. But as multiple examples in the past have shown us, immediate success doesn’t always mean failure. I firmly believe success is coming, and I’ve got three reasons why.

1. He’s a good player

The Bruins weren’t off base when they drafted Hamilton ninth overall in 2011, nor was it by fluke that he put up 42 points as a 21-year-old last season. Hamilton has already shown us he can succeed at the highest level even facing difficult circumstances. That’s why there’s no hesitation in me saying he’ll do it again.

As was pointed out numerous times in June and July, Hamilton is coming off a really good 2014-2015 campaign. It’s not just the points that speak to that, either. Hamilton had strong underlying numbers despite difficult circumstances with the Bruins, specifically later in the season.

Hamilton finished with Boston’s top possession numbers among blueliners last season while getting the third most ice time on the team. Averaging 21:20 per game, Hamilton Corsi-for rating finished at 54.9% which was good for fifth on the Bruins. He did this all while starting away from the offensive zone more often than not, with an offensive zone start of 46.9%. He did this largely on Boston’s top pairing, which means Hamilton was getting all this done while playing against the best opposition players every single shift.

Granted, this was all done on a Boston team that was far better in the possession game than the Flames are right now. You could also make the argument that playing with Zdeno Chara was helpful, and you’d probably be accurate. That doesn’t reduce the significance of what Hamilton did last year. It also says to me that his 42.0% Corsi rating through six games this year isn’t all telling, either.

2. Things are different in Calgary

Sometimes the talk of different systems from team to team is overplayed, because as many players have told me, hockey is still hockey. But that doesn’t mean every team does things the same, and new surroundings can sometimes take some getting used to. There’s certainly some of that at work right now.

I had the opportunity so spend about ten minutes talking to Hamilton about just this after practice on Wednesday. He’s not 100% comfortable right now, and while that’s extremely frustrating to him, it’s also the truth. Whether you, me, or Hamilton likes it, it’s going to take a little more time for him to feel right with what Calgary is doing.

The Flames ask a lot of their defencemen, and ask more than has been asked of Hamilton in the past. Despite being a very strong skater, Hamilton has admitted it’s been difficult to adjust to the concept of a permanent green light. Calgary wants their d-men jumping at every opportunity, and it takes some time to get used to doing that after doing it another way for so long.

Hamilton also hasn’t had to extensively block shots in his NHL career. The Bruins were a very strong possession group for virtually all of his time there, so the need to block shots is far less than on a team, like, well, Calgary right now. Through six games the Flames are near the top of the league in the category once again. That’ll happen when you don’t have the puck very much.

3. His partner is struggling, too

I’ve been told by a few NHL blueliners that chemistry with a defensive partner can sometimes be overrated. In this case, though, it’s not being overstated, and Hamilton is the first one to admit it. Neither Hamilton nor partner Mark Giordano have been strong to start this season, and I think each guy’s individual hurdles are exacerbating the other’s issues.

Gio is rusty and nowhere near the form that had him in the Norris Trophy conversation for most of last season. While the captain works through his issues, Hamilton is figuring out his and it’s left the Flames with two guys struggling with one another while playing a lot of minutes. As Giordano figures his game out, it’ll help Hamilton do the same, and vice versa.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I got from my conversation with Hamilton was an admission that there isn’t any chemistry with Gio right now. Us blog folk tend to hate the word “chemistry” because it’s overused and often completely irrelevant. But when it comes right from the player’s mouth without prompting, I give the whole thing a little more credence.

Hamilton used the example of manning the powerplay point with Giordano. In Boston, Hamilton had what he called A, B, and C reads depending on what his D partner did on the man advantage. Right now, however, Hamilton said he’s struggling to figure out what his first read is. That is telling, but it’s also fixable. The only way it gets fixed, though, is with more time.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be disappointed in your first impressions of Hamilton. Much like the rest of the team, he hasn’t been very good. But there’s too much evidence that tells me this is only temporary. I went into this season fully ready to give Hamilton the entire season to fully get comfortable in Calgary. I’m quite confident we’ll be singing a different tune about him in a few months, and I still fully believe Hamilton will be a vital piece on the Flames going forward.

PS. I didn’t use quotes in this article because, well, that would be me pretending to be a journalist. I’m going to play the audio this afternoon, and the quotes can also be found in Scott Cruickshank’s article today as he and I were the ones who chatted with Hamilton on Wednesday.

PPS. Please give me credit for not using any “Teach Me How to Dougie” references during this piece.

  • #97TRAIN

    I’m not worried about Dougie at all.. but I would like to see him partnered up with someone solid.

    Gio has struggled as well, and those two don’t seem to be gelling very well.

    If Brodie gets reunited with Gio, who are you going to pair Hamilton with?

    Or if you pair Brodie and Hamilton together, who do you pair Gio with?

  • A-Mc

    Oiler fan here: I am making an effort to watch flames games because I’m really interested in the Hamilton/Gio Duo. They haven’t looked great, but like you say, i think that will be temporary.

    We have 2 Eastern Defensemen (Gryba/Sekera) who have commented that the west is an entirely different beast for a defenseman. The west apparently forechecks completely differently, the body sizes are generally bigger and faster, and Defensemen have less time to think out their next move. Hamilton might be struggling with that a little too. New Team, New System, New Partner and New Conference.. All @ 22 years of age.

    • Captain Ron

      Great comment thanks. Very enjoyable to read an intelligent comment and opinion from an opposing teams fan base.

      Guys like Hamilton are talented enough to work their way out of this type of funk. If Gio is not a good fit so be it there are other options to choose from. Plenty of good NHL D men struggled at times early in their careers. I’ll be concerned if we are still looking at the same problems 50 games into the season.

      When Brodie gets back put him with Gio and things improve right now. Then I experiment with either Hamilton/Wideman or Hamilton/Engelland to start, see how either of those options go and take it from there. I’m not a big fan of Engelland but he is an older Veteran who might help him to settle down. Bring his confidence back up with easier zone starts while he continues to adjust to his new surroundings and opposing teams players in the West.

  • #97TRAIN

    Completely agree with all of this.

    Boston’s hate-trade of Hamilton will be one of the most clear self-inflicted wounds in Bruin history (and they have several examples to choose from).

    Curious if there is something to the difference in play from East to West? As I recall Hamilton had weaker numbers as a Bruin vs Western Conference teams. No worries that he will be able to overcome this but it may be a factor too.

  • Könniek

    Giordano’s no Chara. In fact, this defense which was ‘the best defense in the league on paper’ this offseason has looked mediocre at best. I know it’s still early, but this team looks nothing like it did last season and that’s after adding Dougie and Frolik. What gives?

    • Captain Ron

      Total understatement. In fact Gio is no Gio from the last few years. Yes, he has physically recovered from that horrible injury & he claims he feels good. But…… he has looked rusty (been awhile that he has played meaningful hockey), he is playing apprehensively (he hesitates & hasn’t jumped into plays like I have seen him usually do) & he is adjusting to a new partner who is also adjusting to a new team, coach, system & high media expectations. Wait until Brodie gets back partnered back with Gio, we will be seeing progression.

      I am just mortified at all the reports of big trade rumours, Stamkos rumours, freaking Bozak rumours. I hope BT is as smart as I think he is & has separated himself from the high media hype of expectation of this team & realize these first 6 games is true evidence this team is still rebuilding, in fact going into year 3 of the rebuild. Personally, I am happy where we are. I would have given more than our 1st & two 2nd picks for Hanafin & am thrilled we were able to pick up a defence man that just turned 22 & is an elite hi end prospect that is already developed to be able to play top 4 immediately. I hope Burke pressured by Ken King is not pressing BT to make some stupid win now block buster deals so we can make the playoffs & really not good odds of winning the Cup. I hope BT stands his ground & realize we may just have to be sellers this year & extract as many top prospects/1st rounders as possible for some of our pending UFA assets.

      I have now accepted that last year was an incredible treat, kinda of messed with my expectations, but what fan wouldn’t get ahead of the cart after last spring. We have some real good pieces in place, & we have some pieces that aren’t as good as we thought we had, so there is much more rebuilding work to be done.
      Just my opinion. It’s not a mess in Calgary, it’s just the opposite, it’s exciting times seeing this team build something special.

  • Könniek

    Great article…I haven’t been impressed with Hammy…but then again,I haven’t been impressed with the entire team.

    Give it time…no need to panic.Stay the course!

  • RedMan

    When Brodie gets back I think you have to try him with Gio again. That may stabilize the D. What’s that got to do with Dougie?

    Dougie will be fine. Put him with some that is or is used to being defensively responsible. Personally, I would have preferred Kulak but let’s see him with Russell. Russell is used to covering for Wides. How will he do covering for someone that can really skate?

    This season has sucked, so far, and Dougie hasn’t exactly shone. It’s still early and Dougie is young so let’s just calm down and see where this goes.

  • Rock

    All Hamilton has done is make a Norris defence man look like a back pairing defense man. It is hard to play good defence when your partner is soft and always out of position. He is only 22 at that age you should be old enough to man up and show some drive. He has no emotion after he screws up and that is because he probably don’t give a shit. There is a reason Boston traded him you don’t just trade away talented 32 year old defence man. He needs bottom pairing ice time or press box until he can play like a Calgary flame