It’s time to play Dougie Hamilton more

Dougie Hamilton’s ice time has been a frequent point of interest for me all season long. For most of the year, Hamilton has been number five among Calgary defenders in ice time. In more recent times, the Flames have been without both Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman yet Hamilton’s ice time has still been relatively limited. 

Personally, I think Hamilton is the third best defenceman on the team and, with only the stretch drive remaining, I think Calgary should be using him as such.

The table below compiles the most used players on the Flames through more than three quarters of the season.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 5.17.24 PM

What’s been even more curious has been Hamilton’s usage over the last few weeks. Calgary has been without Wideman due to suspension and without Russell thanks to injury and now a trade. Yet, during that 12 game stretch (February 15th through March 7th), it’s been Deryk Engelland getting the biggest ice time bump as opposed to Hamilton. Last night’s win over Nashville is obviously excluded as Engelland sat out with a minor lower body injury.

I have absolutely nothing against Engelland. In fact, I think he’s been just fine as a third pairing defender this season. On average, though, Engelland is receiving around two more minutes of even strength ice time per game when compared to Hamilton over the 12 game span referenced above. Since losing Russell and Wideman, Engelland’s ES ice time has averaged around 17:50 while Hamilton’s has been down at roughly 15:50. That’s a fairly significant gap that I think should be reversed down the stretch, and I’ve got three reasons why.

Hamilton is a better option

First and foremost, I think Hamilton is the third best defenceman on Calgary’s roster and I felt that prior to the deadline. But let’s focus on the situation as it applies right now. Hamilton shouldn’t be playing less at 5-on-5 than Engelland right now; the same applies to Wideman when he returns to the lineup shortly. Why? Because Hamilton is a more effective player.

The table below compares possession and offensive zone start metrics of the three players in question. The raw figures are compiled in all score situations compared to the values in close score scenarios.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 6.10.45 PM

Looking strictly at possession, Hamilton is the most effective of the three defenders while Wideman is the least effective. For me, the data correlates with my eye, because possession isn’t everything.

More than anything else, Hamilton is the best skater of the three in question. That allows him to close gaps better than either of Engelland or Wideman, which in turn makes it more difficult to gain the offensive zone on him. I’ll be the first to admit Hamilton is prone to some questionable decisions inside his own blueline, but certainly no more than the other two. He spends less time in his own end than the other two, though, ultimately making him more effective.

Hamilton also has far more ability to create offence. Not only does he spend significantly more time in the offensive zone as the other two, he also affects more scoring chances. Once again, it’s table time, because looking at scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances, Hamilton is the most dangerous.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 6.11.27 PM

Proportionately, Hamilton is on the ice for way more goal scoring opportunities than the other two. Knowing that he’s not routinely on the ice with Calgary’s top offensive forwards at even strength, that tells me Hamilton has a decent hand in creating the chances he’s out there for. Regardless, over 60+ games, it’s not a coincidence to see Hamilton on the ice for more positive offensive chances than the other two.

When Wideman returns, seeing the pairings look something like this seems pretty ideal to me:

  • Giordano-Brodie
  • Hamilton-Jokipakka
  • Engelland-Wideman

So before we get into the other reasons to start using Hamilton as a number three, it’s important to lay out that he deserves to be there on merit. I think the data above does a nice job of laying that out.

It’s better long term

Hamilton is a huge piece of this team’s future. It’s cold and robotic, but Engelland and Wideman are not. The Flames gave up three draft picks to acquire a 22-year-old Hamilton in June and signed him to a six-year, $34.5 million contract shortly thereafter. Engelland and Wideman, on the other hand, are both 32 or older and will enter the final year of their contracts next season.

The team is most definitely going forward with Hamilton while it is unlikely to see them do the same with the other two. Knowing that Hamilton likely projects as a 2-3 defenceman long term with the team, doesn’t it make sense playing him in that spot right now? It certainly makes more sense when the other options are older and less effective players.

Now is the time

The Flames aren’t going to the playoffs, so the rest of the season should be used to further the longer term goals of the club. Allowing younger players to see more ice time is the way to go right now. So, even if you believe Hamilton should be playing less than Engelland and/or Wideman on merit, I’d assert he shouldn’t be knowing the team’s circumstances right now.

Because Hamilton is such a big piece of this team’s long term future, his development needs to be a priority. First off, he can handle top three minutes. Just as importantly, seeing that type of responsibility will be good for Hamilton. It’s a no-brainer for me; even if he does struggle, the results in the final month really don’t matter. Let the guy sink or swim knowing he’ll probably do the latter.

Conclusion

Right now, Hamilton’s ice time is very much game dependant. He saw more ice time than usual against the Sharks because Calgary spent so much time on the powerplay. At even strength, though, Hamilton has regularly been used less than teammates he’s superior to. With a month to go this season, I believe that trend should start changing.

  • RedMan

    going to be interesting to see what the Flames due over these last games… as much as i would rather see wideman and Engelland sit the remainder, i doubt the coach will agree.

    not only that, but if the Flames can give wideman ice time enough to demonstrate that he is still a high point producing depth defenseman, they will increase his trade value (alhtough they will have to retain salary)

    • The Last Big Bear

      Demonstrate that he’s still a high point producer?

      Wideman has been playing bottom pairing minutes, and missed 1/3 of the season to suspension, and I think he’s still in the top-60 for points by defenceman.

      He’s scoring at a top-pairing level right now, despite bottom pairing minutes. Point production is the last thing he needs to demonstrate.

    • hulkingloooooob

      seriously?

      we got a great return for russell, i mean really great! would that have happen if we pinned him on the third pairing? nope. was wideman’s suspension part of the plan? obvi not! and as such we might have even been able trade him. yes hammer is a big part of the future, but we have him locked up for a long time. better to use the extra ice time to bring others values up and or audition the young guys. and maybe the coach knows something we don’t. maybe hammer is learning to play more min but not a 25 min eater just yet.

      I for one trust the coach and management. this rebuild requires patience and careful thoughtful planning, not just play the number 3 guy in the number 3 slot no matter what.

      this whole article is just an excuse to complain. go coach a kids hockey team or something.

      side note. very excited about the D this team has potential to ice over the next 3-5 years. could be rocking 6 mobile smart tough Dmen who jump up and win us many a game.

      GFG!

      • KACaribou

        I agree with most of what you are saying here. I like our new D-men a lot. Considering they just began playing WOW. Great start, lots of hope. With some good young prospects in the wings, we could be very D-rich.

  • cberg

    The rest of the season is about experimenting about new partnerships, like Hamilton-Gio last night, giving the new guys enough time to settle in, and giving Wideman-Engelland and?Smid enough games to keep their trade value reasonable.

    In the near offseason I’m hoping we can trade Wideman and Smid(or LTIR), and possibly Engelland, though he is the biggest, toughest D we have so keeping him for select games is OK too.

    • Baalzamon

      Andersson can’t be called up. He’s in Barrie until their season ends.

      And that’s if calling him up would be a good idea, which it wouldn’t. I love him as a prospect, but he’d get massacred in the NHL.

  • Scary Gary

    Fortunately I think Hartley will be gone either in the off-season or into next season. He received way too much credit last year and I simply don’t think the players like him.

  • beloch

    Hamilton played 27:12 last night. Only Giordano played more, by a whole 8 seconds. It took injuries to Engelland and Brodie for that to happen unfortunately.

  • OKG

    Only as we’ve subtracted each of “Hartley’s Vets” (Glencross, Russell, Jones, Smid to Injury, Stajan to injury, Wideman to suspension, Engelland to injury, Hiller to the season being unofficially over) have younger, better players (Bouma, Ferland, Wotherspoon, Hathaway, Monahan, Nakladal, Jokipakka, Ortio) gotten the opportunity Hartley holds out on.

    The sooner we drop Engelland, Stajan, and Smid the better. I would like to go into 2016-17 with:

    Giordano-Hamilton

    Brodie-Wideman

    Jokipakka-Nakladal

    Wotherspoon

    Frolik-Bennett-Puljujarvi

    Gaudreau-Jankowski-Monahan

    Ferland-Backlund-Hathaway

    Bouma-Grant-Hamilton

    Agostino/Jooris

    Ortio

    Poulin

    NO MORE VETS NOT NAMED GIORDANO

  • xeno

    Hartley’s player deployment has always had me scratching my head with the exception of some obvious choices that any coach would play the crap out of. Gio, Brodie, Gaudreau, etc.

    ————————————————-

    I think where he excels the most as a coach is his interview skills. Some of his quotes are pretty funny!

  • KACaribou

    Dougie Hamilton received the ice time he deserved early in the year. I mean he was terrible. I am positive the Flames had more goals against caused by Dougie cough-ups than any other D-man. He doesn’t like getting hit and it shows.

    The good news is he is way, way better now, and his ice time reflects that. He’s on the no. 1 PP, and is an offensive dynamo. Still wish he’d hit more, and show a bit of a mean streak – but he’s only 22. I still have hope Monahan will show the same.

    I understand FN doesn’t understand most of Hartley’s decisions. I don’t either. But I attribute that to the fact that I only watch hockey:

    I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL COACH.

    I also don’t know the players personally, and I never get to see practices or know about nagging injuries. Nor do I ever talk to players personally or ask the hard questions we no longer have a media which does.

    If I don’t understand Hartley, it’s probably the same reason I know very little about your business, or you know about mine.

    It’s fun to think we do. It would be every person here’s dream job I am sure. Unfortunately we aren’t qualified.

    • DestroDertell

      You’re wrong. Before 2016, Hamilton was playing 16.3 ES minutes/GM. After? 15.2.

      In all situations, Hamilton’s TOI received a small 0.7 min/gm boost, but that’s entirely because Wideman was suspended. The latter’s 3 PP minutes/game had to be played.

      Even after Russell and Wideman were out, Hamilton was still the #4: Engelland got the promotion to #3 instead.

  • KACaribou

    My question for Spreadsheet Steinberg is why would you show a graph of the full year’s ice time showing Hamilton way down the list of ice time used?, when Spreadsheet knows full well Hamilton is being used way more now.

    How much has he been used in FEB and MAR would be in interesting graph, perhaps compared to the first couple of months of the year.

    That would actually show us something rather than intentionally making it look like Hartley isn’t using Hamilton properly even since Hamilton started playing like a first pairing D-man.

  • freethe flames

    I have liked JJ (you can call him Kevin if you want) since we acquired him and even if all he becomes is a third pairing guy what he does is buy the other young guys in the system time to develop. As many others have said BT job is to remove the bad contracts that are getting in the way of player development. If Brodie is healthy my preference is TJ with Dougie, Gio with Nakdady, JJ with Engs(wideman switching in on occasion for the rest of the season).

    Next year a diet of Nakdaddy/Gio, Tj/Hamilton, JJ/TSpoon or KUlak with Eng’s as #7 would be fine. Give Kylington, Andersson, Culkin, Hickey, etc another year to mature and develop.

    Please, please Smid retire for the sake of your health and family.

    One more year of Wideman, convince ownership to either buy him out or send to the AHL like the Oilers did with Souray all those years ago. Our AHL team could use some xNHL players to provide veteran experience.

  • RKD

    Slow and steady with Dougie, it took him a while to adjust to a new system in Calgary. I don’t disagree he should give more ice time but do it incrementally instead of a big jump. Hamilton has been much better now than he was at the start of the season. We will play him more, especially if we gave up 3 picks for him.

  • Rock

    Last game the 2 goals were a result of Hamilton standing around as usual

    Hamilton deserves less ice time he is like a power play Sprcialist other then that he is a 5,6 pairing playing defense is not is game

    It is a fact that Boston’s defense is better this year without Hamilton then with him. They are a playoff team this year compared to last year.
    Flames are worse defensively this year with Hamilton then they were last year without and the result is they are out of the playoffs.

    • Baalzamon

      Actually, they were a result of Hamilton being forced to check two players at once. On BOTH goals, the guy who scored was the THIRD guy who came into Hamilton’s area.

  • CantstandyaOilers

    Flames fan forever living in Oiler Ville! It has been fun these past years until they got McDavid and spoiled my playoffs for me last season! Love the Flames mantra last season, EARNED NEVER GIVEN, I was afraid this would not apply this season when they traded for Hamilton! I knew this was JayBO all over again! I hated the deal, for God sake our defense was awesome last season, we did not need Hamilton or even Frolik! We needed to promote from within and continue building on the EARNED NEVER GIVEN MANTRA! Getting Hamilton and paying him more than Brodie is a complete joke. Brodie is our stud, he is the most underrated d man in the world. This Hamilton kid must be traded even for bag of pucks to restore chemistry to the d corps!

    Don’t like the OIL, hope we win the Lottery and get Mathews or at the very least Tkachuk. The OIL fans are so jacked here, McDavid is their saviour no doubt! They got lucky, it is our turn to win the Lottery and ALSO GET RID OF HAMILTON to restore chemistry on our team! Trade him to the OIL for Yakopov and Eberle! They are looking for a large right handed shot d man! We have Brodie and many young studs in our system and let’s restore our mantra from last season, EARNED NEVER GIVEN!