Dougie Hamilton’s first year with the Calgary Flames maybe was underwhelming – and considering how we’re talking about a now-23-year-old who had a career high in both goals and points, that’s quite a statement.
Fact is, though, there was a lot of hype when he was first acquired. How could there not be? A team in desperate need of another top four defenceman didn’t bother with signing a likely overpriced free agent on July 1. Instead, they got someone much younger, more of a spark to become a Flame, with the potential to still amaze and astonish further, and all at the cost of a couple of draft picks.
Hamilton’s first season with the Flames maybe didn’t go as it should have. But that doesn’t matter now, because he’s signed for another five, and it’s a new year with new beginnings.
The season before
T.J. Brodie got hurt, and the Flames’ 2015-16 was derailed just like that.
Fortunately, the Flames had acquired Hamilton, so Mark Giordano wouldn’t have an inferior defence partner (remember when he got hurt in 2014-15 and Brodie had to play alongside Deryk Engelland for an extended period of time?). Unfortunately, it still didn’t really work out. Not with a kid not only on a new team, but in a new conference; any polish he had with the Bruins disappeared in his first October wearing red.
In fairness to Hamilton, most of the Flames were had poor showings in Brodie’s absence. But when Brodie returned, Hamilton was dropped down to the bottom pairing to find his footing. And it worked, for a moment.
But then he just stayed there. Hamilton averaged 19:46 a game, fifth among Flames defencemen, despite probably being at least the third best guy available. At the very least, he was indisputably the third-highest scorer; both Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman, who averaged more ice time than him, failed to even reach 20 points.
Eventually, Hamilton’s usage did go up. It had to – what was he going to do on the bench? I mean– Through the first half of the season, he scored 15 points. Over the course of the final 41 games, he scored his remaining 28. His best month was a March – a month that, coincidentally, featured no Russell and just three games of Wideman – during which time he scored 14 points over 16 games, had 45 shots on net trying to reach the goal, and averaged 21:12 a game.
He finished the season with 198:36 played on the powerplay, behind just Giordano for Flames defencemen. Here’s something to consider regarding that, though: Hamilton scored 16 points on the man advantage, which was three fewer than Giordano over 64:23 fewer powerplay minutes. Hamilton led the way on the Flames with a CF60 of 106.43 with the man advantage. He was behind only Sean Monahan when it came to GF60 at 5v4.
Imagine if he’d gotten more of a shot, how much better the Flames’ 22nd-ranked powerplay could have been?
We’re past patiently waiting at this point. Hamilton didn’t meet initial expectations, but this is the year to start smashing them: particularly with a new head coach, one without any previous biases, in the fold.
Via OwnThePuck, we’re talking about a young defenceman who is, at absolute worst, a top four guy. At best, he’s an elite offensive generator who should be playing big minutes, and should have first unit powerplay time until someone else shows they should take his position (which probably won’t happen; his shot alone is pretty good ammunition).
Hamilton should be in the top three for ice time among defencemen throughout the year. Who he plays with will likely go a long way towards determining that.
My personal preference would be to keep Giordano and Brodie together as the shutdown top pairing, and give Hamilton and his partner offensive zone starts. Not that he necessarily needs them to keep his head above water, but they don’t hurt, and it would automatically be putting him in position to succeed, and give the Flames that extra potent scoring option from the backend.
His partner could benefit from them, too. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the defence shakes out, particularly with the top three defencemen so clear, meaning one of them is going to go with more of a suboptimal partner. Do the Flames have anyone who could match his practical tactical brilliance?
I’m intrigued by the idea of Brett Kulak joining Hamilton: two mobile skaters with a proclivity for scoring getting sheltered starts together. That could be really cool to see, if potentially a problem defensively at times. Then again, they’re both in their early 20s, and that’s how they learn to manage disadvantages. Kulak probably has the most potential of those remaining, though, so why not give him a bigger stage? If he makes the Flames, and Brodie and Giordano do remain together, Hamilton is probably the guy who most deserves the chance to make sure he’s not left helpless.
As for actual numerical expectations for Hamilton: in his last season with Boston, he scored 42 points over 72 games. Over a full season, that would be 48 points. Fifteen of those points came over 180:22 on the powerplay. Assuming continued growth in Hamilton’s game and increased powerplay time – both of which should be reasonable expectations – then it’s entirely sensible to conclude Hamilton should, if healthy throughout the year, have at least a 50 point season.
That alone would be satisfying, but he could probably score even more than that if everything goes really well, and he doesn’t throw away his shot with a new coach at the helm.