Dougie Hamilton must love T.J. Brodie right about now.
Before Brodie came back from injury, the focus for fans of the Calgary Flames was Dougie Hamilton as he took Brodie’s spot on the right side of the top defensive pairing. Why wasn’t Hamilton performing well yet? Why hadn’t Hamilton and Mark Giordano “clicked” perfectly as a tandem yet, despite being seemingly well-suited for one another? Had the Flames made a big mistake giving up three top-60 picks for this guy?
But T.J. Brodie’s return took the spotlight away from Hamilton, and soon thereafter Hamilton seemed to find a comfort zone. I had the chance last weekend to ask around the rink about Hamilton’s adjustments since he’s joined the Calgary Flames.
Joe Colborne played in Boston’s minor league system for a season (or so) before moving onto the Toronto Maple Leafs and, eventually, the Flames. He’s fairly familiar with Boston’s playing system and personnel, as well as playing in three markets where hockey’s pretty important (notably Toronto, where hockey is everything unless the Blue Jays are good). He also had to adjust, as Hamilton has, to changing teams as a young hockey player who only ever played on one NHL team with one NHL system. I chatted with him on Saturday morning after practice.
He had this to say when I asked him about the challenges of changing teams and systems.
“You get comfortable in a system and then
it’s like you’re going and you’re learning a whole new language
almost. It takes some time. You do it in your head and you work on
the video and you go out and perform it, but you’re always thinking
about it full-time. It doesn’t become second nature until you’ve
actually put some time in and have done it over and over and got the
I was curious if, perhaps, Hamilton could’ve prepared too much for playing with Mark Giordano – as in, maybe he was trying too hard to play like the absent T.J. Brodie rather than playing his own game. Colborne acknowledged the possibility, but thought Hamilton was merely adjusting to a new team and role.
“Dougie’s a top defenseman in this league
for a reason, and you kind of almost have to let him grow into
himself on this team, and I think he’s doing that right in front of
our eyes right now. He’s playing some great hockey as of late. It’s
never easy coming into a new team and then when you’re getting thrown
out against the top lines, top guys in the world that you’re going up
against every night and playing 24, 25 minutes a night, that’s a tall
task for anyone with a fresh team. You know what, he’s really come
into his own and I think we’re starting to see the Dougie that we’re
going to have for a long time. He’s the whole package.”
Following the Flames’ 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, I asked Hartley in his post-game press conference whether he felt that Hamilton had finally settled in on the Flames blueline.
“I think that over the last seven to ten
days, we see Dougie Hamilton feel way more comfortable in the group,
around the system, around our game, and that’s huge tonight. He was
skating very well, he broke some plays in our defensive zone, and
that’s why we went to get him. But at the same time, let’s remember
he’s only 22 years old, he still has lots to offer, and we’ll take
our time with him and he’ll be alright.”
I think the last part of Hartley’s answer there may be the key (and it ties into something Colborne mentioned in terms of ice time).
ROLLING 3-GAME TRENDS
(Above: rolling three-game Corsi For percentage)
(Above: Rolling three-game even-strength ice time)
Based on these charts, Hamilton’s underlying numbers DID really turn around starting around…seven to ten days ago, as Hartley identified, as his ice-time dropped and his underlyings increased nicely. But the main thing that seemed to really change Hamilton’s fortunes around were changing partners and deployments – he played with Deryk Engelland for a few games before transitioning to the right side of Kris Russell, which is where many of us thought he’d end up eventually.
But it’s hard not to think that Brodie’s return didn’t help set everything off for Hamilton, as Brodie jumping into the top two pairings (first with Russell, then with Mark Giordano) gave Hartley the flexibility to change how he used Hamilton and allowed the 22-year-old to translate some of the hard lessons he learned when Brodie was gone into some on-ice results.
One has to wonder what the “sweet spot” for Hamilton will end up being in terms of partners, ice-time and deployments. For now, second pairing duty alongside Kris Russell seems to be a perfectly fine spot for him, particularly with Giordano and Brodie rounding into their old form on the top grouping. We probably won’t know what the “real” Dougie Hamilton is, in terms of his performance and ideal placement in the Flames line-up, for at least another month or so (when he’s played another 10-15 games in a red sweater). But recent indications are that he’s finally figuring it all out.