Is Dougie Hamilton a fifth defenceman?

Dougie Hamilton came to the Flames with a lot of fanfare. Here we had a 22-year-old defenceman who had already played three seasons in the NHL, just coming off of his first season averaging more than 21 minutes a game. Any time you can get ahold of a top four defender that young, the future of your team should be in good shape. 

With T.J. Brodie’s broken hand forcing him to miss the first nine games of the season, the door was wide open for Hamilton to become the Flames’ new right-hand man on the top pairing. He was just coming off of playing in some of the toughest circumstances his previous team, the Boston Bruins, had to offer, and was going to play alongside Mark Giordano who, barring injuries, had turned into a perennial Norris candidate. Everything was perfect.

Except things didn’t go that smoothly. Hamilton (and Giordano, and the entire team, for that matter) stumbled out of the gate, young and in a new conference on a new, still-rebuilding team. He fell to the third pairing, adapted, and worked his way back into the top four.

Except where he should be the Flames’ number three guy, his usage and ice time indicates he’s more like the fifth. And that’s really not how it should be.

Moving up the depth chart?

In 2014-15, Hamilton averaged 21:09 a game, good for third out of all Bruins defencemen. In 2015-16, he averages 19:07, fifth out of all Flames defencemen. There’s a clear separation between the top two – Brodie and Giordano averaging 25:21 and 24:23 a game, respectively – and the rest, but there’s still a drop off between three (Kris Russell, 22:45), four (Dennis Wideman, 21:09), and Hamilton, two minutes fewer.

Even with Hamilton’s regular partner being Russell, and therefore, supposedly secure in a top four position, it hasn’t been realized. This does, in part, come down to special teams usage: Hamilton is fourth in power play ice time (89:43), behind Wideman (143:06), Giordano (134:41), and Brodie (90:21). On the penalty kill, though, he’s sixth with just 17:26 played short handed; the top four penalty killing defencemen have all played at least 70 minutes, so that’s where he’s really behind the pack.

There’s been some suggestion of Hamilton’s ice time improving as of late – particularly on the man advantage – but 47 games through the season, things have hardly been consistent. In fact, they’re closer to damning than anything else.

hamiltontoi

Aside from a spike a couple of games ago – the Flames’ 2-1 shootout loss to the Oilers – Hamilton’s overall ice time as the season has gone on has not been particularly high. He’s not playing third pairing minutes anymore, but he’s struggling to crack even 20 minutes a game, especially as of late. He’s being used more frequently on the power play now, but even so much as attempting to play him on the penalty kill seems to be completely out of the question.

It’s not as though he was a prominent penalty killer on the Bruins, either, though last season he played 83:46 shorthanded: fifth out of all Bruins defencemen, with the top four all playing over 100 minutes (and, in Dennis Seidenberg’s case, 200). 

But regarding the power play: in 2014-15, Hamilton was second in defencemen ice time on the Bruins’ power play with 180:22 played. He also led the Bruins in power play points, suggesting he probably belonged on the man advantage. This season, he has two fewer points on the man advantage than Wideman does, but he’s required 53:23 fewer minutes to accumulate his offence. He’s also thrown just six fewer shots on net with that power play time.

Hamilton may be a top four defenceman in theory, but he’s certainly not being played like one.

It shouldn’t even be close

Brodie and Giordano are the Flames’ top two defencemen. This has basically been undisputed fact for a couple of years now, and there’s no reason to even question it at this point in time.

After them, though, it’s been Russell and Wideman. The pairing gave the illusion of being a good second pairing option last season, one mostly brought about by the fact that no matter how poorly the Flames may have been playing, they continued to win games. But their circumstances were lesser, and pucks went against them far more often than they did against Brodie and Giordano.

That’s still the case this season, but there’s the added twist of Hamilton being thrown into the mix. And when you compare their success rates, it shouldn’t even be a question if Hamilton should be the number three defenceman on this team.

Via War on Ice:

woiflamesdmen

Once again, nobody compares to Brodie and Giordano. The Flames’ top pairing continues to play in the toughest circumstances: toughest zone starts, toughest competition. All the while, they continue to move the puck north more often than not relative to their team, with only rookie Brett Kulak – playing in far more sheltered circumstances – beating them in corsi rel over the six NHL games he played.

But then, there’s the sheltered group. It’s not bad to be sheltered. Wideman, for example, is known more as an offensive defenceman than a defensive one, so it makes sense to give him more offensive zone starts. It’s putting him in position to score, or at least be less of a liability.

Here’s the problem: Hamilton plays in tougher circumstances than Wideman, and is roughly on par with Russell. And he’s better than both of them. 

Russell and Wideman have the worst defencemen corsi rel percentages on their team. Relative to the rest of the Flames – an already mostly poor possession team – they’re the worst of the bunch, even with their offensive zone starts. The puck is more likely to go against them often than not, and this isn’t a new occurrence: it’s a carryover from the previous season.

Hamilton, meanwhile, is the only other defenceman to be a positive corsi rel player. It’s not by much – he’s sitting at +0.92 – but it’s more than the rest of his teammates can say; particularly Russell, who plays in nearly identical conditions. Russell’s corsi rel sits at -5.82, so the ratings aren’t even close. Hamilton completely blows him out of the water.

And yet, he’s essentially being treated as the Flames’ fifth defender.

You can justify this with conspiracy theories, I suppose: playing Russell and Wideman more to make them look more attractive to trade suitors, to show off their prowess in handling big minutes, for example. But assuming this team is trying to actually win games – a front office advocating for a tank is not the same as the on-ice product trying to make it come true – its defencemen usage is completely counterintuitive to that goal.

We’re well past the point of Hamilton’s rough start with the Flames. A bad start to the season shouldn’t result in continued mismanagement this far into the year; and yet, here we are.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    I don’t have time to read the article (I’m fortunate enough to still be employed) but I’ll answer the question: NO HE IS NOT!!!!!

    I’m tired of these jealous Oilers fans trying to downplay DH, he would be a 1D on your Oilers for the next 5 years…

    WW

    • piscera.infada

      Oilers dodged a bullet with this #5 Dman. He’s going to be a boat anchor against the salary cap for years. Hartley should be feeding him PP and PK time it can’t possiby get worse eh Walter

      • Kevin R

        You keep thinking that & also relieved you dodge the other bullet missing out on Jones. Maybe we should call the Oilers Roger-Dodger’s. Good for you guys! Probably can hardly wait for Ference to return eh?

        • TRAIN#97

          Return from the IR to go back to the press box?
          Yes, your right!

          The old soldier is at the end… But:
          He’s an exceptional leader in the community (spider Mabel)
          Hard as NAILS (Stempniak can attest to this fact)

          If “Doogie” ends up being HALF the man you should consider yourselves lucky.

  • piscera.infada

    I for one believe there is an unlying reason that boston traded him. DH is not that good….yet. The flames are sure paying a lot of money for a #5 d-man. DH is soft on the wall and soft in front of the net. A guy with his size should be clearing the front of the net easily and stiking fear into the opponent which unfortunately he doesn’t do. I sure hope he gets better or we will b stuck with another big contract. I definitely will be hoping they shop him at the deadline.

      • hulkingloooooob

        hey mike…..being one of the writers on here whose opinions i often see eye to eye with (and perhaps more importantly because J-Dilla is a god – and i think “workin on it” should be our team song whenever we score) I wanted to ask you your opinion:

        making the following assumptions:

        1- we some how magically trade 2 of Smid/Eng/Russ/Wides

        2- we don’t acquire any experienced D in return.

        3 – the 2 who are left from the above 4 play 5/6 D

        4 – bro/gio stay on the first pair together

        Who would be your ideal from within our system to play on the 2nd pairing with Hammertown? or who do you see as decent options? and finally, is that realistic?

        • piscera.infada

          My ideal situation doesn’t really follow your parameters, but is premised on the idea that the organization needs to see Nakladal.

          Naks is a right shot. I see no reason why you couldn’t try the following (assuming you move Russell):

          Brodie-Hamilton/Gio-Nakladal

          Or:

          Gio-Brodie/Kulak-Hamilton (assuming you think Kulak can contribute)

          As I stated above though, I think getting Nakladal a really good look, with a competent partner (Gio) would go a very long way in seeing what he has. You’d have a nice balance between right and left shots in your top-4 (if you care about that), and I’ve always been a little bit confused as to why they haven’t given Hamilton-Brodie a decent look.

          I’d be somewhat hesitant to play Kulak and Hamilton, just because I think you need to see Nakladal more. I also haven’t heard much about him from the AHL this year–he hasn’t particularly stood out either in the games I’ve watched.

          I’m not sure how realistic my Nakladal idea is, because it relies on Bob breaking up Gio-Brodie, but I honestly think that might be for the best of the organization moving forward. Don’t lose sight of the fact that they can be rotated back together at key moments (PK, salting away a win, etc.).

          The main point is, I think Dougie is fine. He’ll be a very important piece of this organization moving forward, but he needs to be used correctly, and he needs a defense partner that isn’t consistently dragging him down–rather allows him to play his game more freely.

          What about you?

          Also, “Workinonit” all day.

          • hulkingloooooob

            Agreed. The kid is alright. My point being, he’s a kid and already playing great and getting better. Yes, maybe you want to pair him with some grit, but he’ll find his way and we’ll be talking about him as a bargain in two years. (or so we can realistically hope anyways).

            But the question still remains, who is his #4? I’m not sure we’re there for at least another year…in other words we might have to live without an ideal #4 D until one can develop within our system. very likely we can get at least 2 good D out of our current prospects but we’ll need stop gaps…

            I hate stop gaps…..

            such is a rebuild….

            GFG!

            (workinonit)

    • Kevin R

      You sir, are exactly correct. Except…
      Remember when it was a “let’s let him learn the system”?
      And then it was “let’s let him learn how to play in the west”?

      He was going to make the defence the “most dominant” in the league

      Ya….um…. NO.

      H

      (I added the “H” just like wally…can you dig it!!!)

  • hulkingloooooob

    there’s and element of trust too. Hammer is still the new guy in town so he’s been eased into situations, where as wideman and russel seem to get any and all situations thrown at them, and as you mentioned there is a big gap in short handed min. does dougie have a history (in boston) of being used on the PK? that might have been interesting to add to this otherwise drab explanation of stats. let the guy grow into his position in this team. once again flames nation, why are we in such a hurry?

  • piscera.infada

    he concedes more scoring chances against/60 than Justin Schultz.

    it’s great that he somewhat has been pushing the puck in the right direction, but he’s not a ton better than Wideman if he isn’t putting up a ton for points while allowing so much the other way

    • piscera.infada

      First, he’s playing with Kris Russell (a player who’s scoring chance +/- last year was -258[!]).

      Second, Dougie has significantly more scoring chances for/60 than Justin Schultz. In fact, he has the greatest scoring chances for/60 on the entire blueline (yes, more than Brodie and Giordano–but I get that’s largely dependant on situation).

      You give Hamilton a good partner (like, a real top-4 defenseman), and you’re going to see a massive correction in his scoring chances against/60. The guy has basically been dragging around a defensive liability for his entire tenure in Calgary (outside of those first 10 or so games with Giordano, when neither was playing well at all).

    • Tomas Oppolzer

      While it’s true Dougie has been on the ice for more SCA than Schultz (102 more), he’s also been on for a lot more SCF. 127 more than Schultz to be exact. Calgary is just plays a higher even style, both for and against. The real point of comparison here would be SC+/- in which Dougie is far and away better than the other two. His SC+/- (scoring chance differential) is -18, Schultz’ is -43 and Wideman’ is -48.

      For added fun, Dougie has has a vastly superior HSC+/- (high danger scoring chance differential) with a -8 compared to Wideman’s -22 and Schultz’ -25.

      P.S: I used raw SC data (it was also only 5on5, not PP, SH, or OT) instead of per60, but Hamilton actually plays an extremely similar number of minutes. I believe Schultz averages something like .3 more minutes per game at ES.

      P.P.S: All my info was from war on ice.

      • TRAIN#97

        I’m glad you guys are mentioning Schultz and Hamilton together and while Hamilton is a better player he is not worth that contract he is getting. He is a big guy but as soft as Schultz is.
        He should be excelling in regards to where he is playing in the lineup.
        Your usual comeback is ” what about Sekera?” Well Sekera is earning his 5.75 ml game in and game out ,playing well and making smart plays.

    • MattyFranchise

      Via war-on-ice
      All numbers are from even strength time on ice:

      High Danger Scoring Chance +/-:
      Schultz: -25
      Hamilton: -8

      High Danger Scoring Chance For%:
      Schultz: 44.5
      Hamilton: 48.6

      High Danger Scoring Chance %Rel:
      Schultz: -1.8
      Hamilton: 0.4

      High Danger Scoring Chance For/60:
      Schultz: 10.6
      Hamilton: 11.5

      High Danger Scoring Chance Against/60:
      Schultz: 13.2
      Hamilton: 12.1

      Scoring Chance +/-:
      Schultz: -43
      Hamilton: -18

      Scoring Chance For%:
      Schultz: 45.8
      Hamilton: 48.8

      Scoring Chance %Rel:
      Schultz: -3.3
      Hamilton: -0.1

      Scoring Chance For/60:
      Schultz: 24.4
      Hamilton: 28.8

      Scoring Chance Against/60:
      Schultz: 28.9
      Hamilton: 30.3

      Time on Ice/Game:
      Schultz: 16.1
      Hamilton: 16.0

      Above is a crap load of scoring chance data comparing the two players. Hamilton wins every single category except for the one that you chose.

    • DestroDertell

      Statistically speaking, scoring chances (as defined by WOI) in itself is not a useful metric to evaluate defensive play. Sample size’s an issue, but more importantly, if a team is good at limiting “scoring chance”, but still allows a huge mass of shot attempt (corsi) against, they aren’t going to be limiting goals because the amount of shots that are given up will outweigh it. In short, CA is more telling of a players’ ability to defend than SCA/HSCA/GA. See the last Oilers game for an example.

      Also, comparing non-adjusted events (even with rates) of two players in two different teams is pointless. One plays in Hartley’s system with Russell as partner while the other plays in Lellan’s system with Klefbom (when not in the IR).

  • Catlord

    He also has to play with Kris Russell who is not only a possession black hole but also allows the 5th most scoring chances against per 60 for d men with 200+ minutes. Dougie’s stats at first glance aren’t impressive but if you look at who he is paired with, I find it impressive he’s able to keep his head above water.

  • MattyFranchise

    Ari, I agree 100% and support your crusade, but it’s beating a dead horse now. Bob is a stubborn cuss if there ever was one and the situation won’t change until management forces change. Hopefully soon.

  • piscera.infada

    And again we read another article on this years hot topic of bewildering player usage. Seems, after last years stroke of luck, we gone to “always given, never earned” in some cases

    Anybody else notice how Anaheim always seems to enter the zone on Russell’s side of the ice?

  • BlueMoonNigel

    I want to like Dougie Hamilton. I really do, but it hasn’t been easy to do. Like many, his inauspicious debut with Gio at the start of the season made me wonder if Treliving had been sold a false bill of goods. His play has picked up considerable since his rough start, but I still ask if he should be further along in his development as an NHL defenceman. He’s a fourth-year player with a very generous long-term contract, so is this as good as he gets or is the best yet to come?

    Through no fault of his own, I see comparisons between Hamilton and JayBo as a Flame, and they aren’t good ones. I don’t know if these similarities are really there or if I am exaggerating his shortcomings and calling him the next JayBo.

    I also didn’t like the smell when the Flames acquired Hamilton’s brother. Hamilton had done zero for the Flames up until then and here the org was bringing in his brother. I am never a fan of nepotism.

    At the time Dougie Hamilton was acquired by the Flames, the move was lauded by Flames’ friends and foes, so I had to defer to them as many of them knew a lot more about Hamilton than I did. Perhaps all the plaudits Hamilton received at that time and leading up to the season made me have unrealistic expectations of him.

    Finally, when does Dougie Hamilton become Doug Hamilton?

    • Tomas Oppolzer

      It was 10 games man, everything before those games in his career and everything since, suggests that he is, and will be, at least a 2/3 defenseman.

      If this is as good as he gets, though, it’s more than worth a cap hit of 5.75. That being said, there’s almost no chance he doesn’t improve. He’s only 22 years old. Hockey players don’t typically peak until around 27.

      As for the Freddie Hamilton, Calgary needed depth on the farm and Colorado needed to clear out a contract. That’s about all it adds up to. Also, if you haven’t been keeping track of the Heat he’s been one of their better players.

  • MattyFranchise

    How and why is JayBo still used as an insult for defenseman? I’d take that guy on my team any day of the week. I’m not saying that JayBo is on the same level but Lidstrom wasn’t exactly physical either when he won like 80 Norris trophies in a row.

  • MattyFranchise

    Mmmmm… if this continues into next season or late into this season I might be concerned… but not concerning now.

    If we want to move Russell for a decent return and/or move Wideman at all they need to play top 4 minutes. Obviously Hamilton should be getting more ice time… im not concerned because I am certain this will happen.

    Hamilton is our guy for the future but we need to market Russ and Wides for trade bait.

    Take away Widemans PP time and Hamilton really functions as a top 4 on the team anyway. He will get more PP time and probably overtake Gio on the depth chart in 2-3 seasons.

    If we move a D or two at the deadline then obvi Hamiltons minutes go up this year.

  • RKD

    He’s not a fifth d-man, he’s easily in your top 4 and one day if he gets his game where we think he can get it to be then he’s in your top 2. No way should he be on the 3rd pairing or playing less minutes than Russell or Wideman. In fact, him playing with Smid/Engelland only hurts him. They only put Dougie on the top pairing with Gio because of the Brodie injury but he needed time to adjust playing in a new system. He did have his struggles but he was in over his head on the top pairing on a new team. He get’s a bad rap and the Jay-Bo comparisons because he’s not physical but that’s not his game and it never will be Treliving should badly be looking for a top 4 d-man to compliment Hamilton..