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.