Learning how to Dougie

An important part of being an analyst or commentator is admitting when you’re wrong. I’ll flat out admit it: when Glen Gulutzan shook up the defensive pairings following Calgary’s Dec. 10 loss to the Dallas Stars, I thought it was a bad idea. Heck, I wrote about it and pronounced it as such. My thought process was that the Flames had one defensive pairing that worked really well (Deryk Engelland and Brett Kulak) and it would be silly to break them up to gamble on finding chemistry elsewhere.

Now that Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton have gelled this well together, making such a fuss about the third pairing sure seems silly in hindsight. In particular, the solidifying of Hamilton’s role on the team and a consistent partner have unlocked a ton of really good things in his game.

A Bad Penny, Then Consistency

Early in the season, Hamilton was passed around like a bad penny (in terms of lacking a consistent defensive partner). He began the year playing primarily with Jyrki Jokipakka on the third pairing, but also received consistent power play duty (playing with Giordano) and served as Nicklas Grossmann’s partner when he occasionally got into the lineup… and was swapped into a pairing with T.J. Brodie for a game in mid-October.

When Hamilton was swapped into full-time first pairing duty with Giordano, he suddenly received a jolt of additional ice time and the first consistency in defensive partners he saw all season – especially in terms of consistency in who he played with throughout each game, not just game-to-game.

The consistency in teammates has seemed to bring out consistency within Hamilton’s possession game.

Rolling Five-Game Chart of Various Possession Metrics

Screen Shot 2016-12-11 at 12.24.46 PM

As you can see, early in the season there was a ton of “wobble” in his numbers. Since he’s been placed with Giordano – and ignoring the initial adjustment period for the pairing – Hamilton’s possession numbers have been both consistent and strong.

Making Teammates Better

We’ve mentioned this before, and we’ll mention this again, but Hamilton has been a difference-maker when it comes to making his teammates’ possession numbers better when he’s on the ice with them.

Here are the defensemen who have played with Hamilton at even strength this season. As you can see, most of them have better numbers with Hamilton than without him.

on Ice
Giordano 245:55 56.0 50.9 46.8 +5.1 +9.2
Jokipakka 141:31 48.9 55.2 40.7 -6.3 +8.2
Brodie 40:28 54.0 53.3 46.5 +0.7 +7.5
Grossmann 29:01 48.0 53.7 40.0 -5.7 +8.0
Kulak 18:51 48.9 53.6 53.2 -4.7 -4.3
Engelland 3:33 57.1 53.3 46.0 +3.8 +11.1
Wideman 3:04 87.5 53.1 47.6 +34.4 +39.9

The usual warnings about sample size apply to roughly the last two or three pairings due to the small time the duos spent together, but man, those are some nice results for the top four defenders with Hamilton.

In His Own Words

It’s probably not entirely coincidental that Hamilton’s resurgence has happened at the same time that the Flames have enjoyed their best stretch of play (and on-ice results) this season. Despite his prominence on the score-sheet during the Flames’ many wins, Hamilton has deferred much of the credit to his goaltender.

“I keep saying, I think the biggest thing has been Chad’s play,” said Hamilton. “He’s kinda solidified us, our whole team and everything, and it’s easy to play when you know you have a good goaltender behind you and he’s been unbelievable for us. That’s probably the biggest thing.”

After spending his first few seasons in Boston (and learning a single system in his pro career), Hamilton has learned two different systems in two different years. Hamilton noted that his playing style hasn’t changed much this season.

“I don’t think my game’s changed that much all year,” said Hamilton. “I think I kinda had a bad stretch, four games or something, where I just didn’t get any luck. After that, I played with Gio and I think that’s where my game’s changed. I think just being able to play more, and kinda have that challenge to play against top lines and stuff, I think that’s what I was used to in the past. It’s been fun to take on that challenge again and just do my best in that opportunity.”

Every player is definitely different, but one consistent statement from defenders young and old is that it helps their play if they play more often – rather than stewing on the bench about their mistakes, they’re thrown back into the game. Since Hamilton’s been moved to Giordano’s pairing, he’s averaging an additional two and a half minutes of even strength time per game, he’s generating more offense and his underlying numbers have improved.

It’s probably too early to conclude that throwing Hamilton onto the top pairing saved the season or fixed his game – and I’ve taken enough statistics courses in my life to avoid making any broad causal declarations – but it’s probably about time to give Gulutzan credit for adjusting the defensive pairings.

  • Parallex

    “it’s probably about time to give Gulutzan credit for adjusting the defensive pairings.”

    YMMV but I don’t feel right giving someone credit for fixing a mistake that never should have been made.

    • al rain

      Mistake that should never have been made, huh?

      My opening night lineup didn’t have Tkachuk on a line with Backlund and Frolik or have Johnson in net. Did yours?

      I call BS on yours (and others’) “I’m a better coach/GM than the guy in charge”.

      • Parallex

        My opening night lineup didn’t have Dougie paired with Grossmann on the bottom pairing. Did yours?

        I call BS on yours (and others’) “No one is ever allowed to criticize coaches/management”.

        All mocking your seeming insistence that no one is allowed to ever question line-up construction aside… what do Tkachuk and Johnson have to do with defensive pairings (which is what we’re talking about if you didn’t notice)?

        • al rain

          There’s lots of stuff going on with a team behind the scenes that we don’t know about. You bring up Grossman – I don’t think anyone’s lineup would include a Grossman. But then FN wrote an informative piece a few weeks back that brought our attention to the salary cap, expansion draft and LTIR issues with his contract that were very interesting. Check it out.

          But back to the point. To make it simple, “Criticize” = “I disagree with…”, hopefully also including “for these reasons…”

          “Mistake that should never have been made” = “I know better”.

          The difference between you and me is that I can question the line up (and other things) without hilariously declaring myself to be in a better position to make decisions than the coach and GM.

          • Parallex

            Oh I completely get why they signed him… but signing someone in order to maximize the amount of LTIR space you can get is different then giving that someone actual minutes in an actual game. And still doesn’t explain or justify putting Hamilton on the bottom pairing. Signing Grossmann was fine… playing him? Not so much, Playing him with Dougie (thereby reducing Dougie’s minutes)? Worse.

            Your last bit is pure rubbish. Maybe you’re the type that wants to quell and censer any dissent on the grounds that there might be something that folk don’t know… I’m not. If I see the coach making what I perceive to be a bad decision I’m gonna call that spade a spade and not jump to make an excuse on his behalf. He’s getting it right these days in regards to the d-pairings, that’s great… but he didn’t find some invisible magic formula that only a pure genius would recognize. He just started doing what a large number of people said he should have been doing in the first place (namely give your three best D-men top 4 minutes). I don’t think I (or anyone else) has to put some qualifier on any criticism of the coach or management unless they want to.

          • al rain

            Someone on FN suggested that Grossman signed his contract with the understanding/condition that he draw in and actually play. That sounded very plausible to me. If that was the case and I was the coach I’d find a way for him to hurt the team as little as possible. Maybe partner him with one of my best Dmen, limit his ice for those 3 games? Something like that?

            Or it could be a number of other things. Or it could be that the coach is an idiot. Again, we don’t know because we just watch the games and read some fan sites.

            But hey, you’ve got every right to state conclusively what’s going on in the coach’s head, or in the locker room or in the front office or in God’s mind or whatever. Reasonable people would call it their opinion rather than fact, but you wouldn’t be the first to get that mixed up.

  • Derzie

    Every armchair Flames fan had a combo of Gio/Brodie or Gio/Dougie as their goto. GG figuring it out mid-season is hardly impressive. Especially since he is killing Brodie through placement & pairings. Zero credit to GG on this one. Big credit to Dougie for playing through the crap and rising up. And don’t get me started on deploying Grossman. Inexcusable.

  • SickFloBro

    This comments section escalated quickly…

    In any case, I think what we’ve learned is that the Flames are still growing, and therefore there will be growing pains. It’s obviously good to see the team come out of some of those pains and be as successful as they have been.

    I’m just hoping that their recent play is the new norm… a sign that everything has sunk in and that the learning curve with the new coaches is over.

  • Brick

    I am not sure why Dougie Hamilton is not on the first powerplay unit.

    It is also confusing as to why he wasn’t on it at least in the 3rd period of their last game against Wpg due to the fact that he had already scored two goals. There didn’t appear to be any effort made to give him a decent shot at the hat trick.

    What’s up with that?

    • Baalzamon

      No one really knows, I think. I mean we all love Brodie, but he’s never been a high-end powerplay performer and he’s having a poor year to boot. Why is he on the first unit in place of Hamilton? (especially given Gulutzan’s proclivity for L/R pairs; Giordano and Brodie on the first unit and Wideman and Hamilton on the second unit. Doesn’t make much sense).

      • Kevin R

        Perhaps, GG is trying to give Brodie some PP time to get him going as well. He’s pretty limited. We have 3 Dmen that most teams would love to have & then the rest are a rotation of dirty underwear. One of our big 3 are going to get short changed. After the expansion draft I would love to see Tre go after a bonafide #4 to go with Brodie & let the young bucks scrap over the 5,6,7 spots. If Engellend would sign a 2 year 1.0 mill per extension, I would have no problem with that.

      • OKG

        In a 1-3-1, the lone point man needs to be able to distribute with vision, walk the line with tight puck handling and edges, and set up the flanks for one-timers quickly off their forehand OR backhand before the PKers can recover. This is much more suited to Brodie than Hamilton or Giordano, who are better fits in an umbrella PP as point men (or playing the flanks on the 1-3-1) Brodie is also one of the best neutral zone puck carriers on our team which has improved our zone entries. Brodie is not a traditional PP Dman but he is a great fit in this setup. A 1-3-1 is also your best bet at maintaining puck possession by outnumbering the other team.

  • TurkeyLips

    Confidence and consistency can do wonders for increasing the productivity of an individual. Surprise surprise, but in all seriousness Hamilton’s a young Dman with a big spotlight and these kinds of things matter a lot.

    I think back to Yakupov and how he may amount to one of the biggest draft busts in NHL history. Promising first season, then a totally obliterated confidence via a dumb coach that wilted this man to a point where he never truly recovered. Now he’s struggling to get playing time in St. Louis – first overall pick people.

    Regardless, it’s good to see Gulutzan appropriate Hamilton wisely. He seems to like big minutes and big responsibility and thrives off that – kind of like Monahan. If the players can back that up I’m all for it. It seems Dougie can hold his own with any pairing, the levels at which he brings up Gio and Brodie is doubly impressive.

    Nice article Pike

    • ComeOn

      Couldn’t agree more, Dougie seems a pretty fragile player, Buke’s affirmations during the trade blabber, playing with the Captain and generally getting a higher priority role have benefited him offensively.

      That said, I still find him terrifying on defensive coverage, there’s a high frequency of poor choices and he seems to suffer a tall man syndrome where the puck just gets through him. The same goes for his physical play, he plays like he’s a 185 lbs not 235. I’m not asking him to be a bruiser, my comments are mostly to highlight that if he gains the physical and denfensive confidence that he’s showing lately on the offensive side he could be utterly amazing.

      For now I’d just settle for better defensive choices and bit less fishing for the puck.

  • Ole YELLEr

    I’m a little surprised playing with Giordano isn’t being mentioned much as a possible factor. I know the article mentioned the bump in ice time and responsibility since they’ve become a pair, but just like teams seem to play better when they have confidence in their goalie, I think having confidence in your line mate can also affect play. Obviously Hamilton has put up good numbers over the years without Gio, so I’m not suggesting he’s a passenger. I just think of how often I heard playing with Hudler helped out Johnny and Monny early in their careers but I don’t hear the same about Gio with Brodie and now Hamilton.

  • Lucky 13

    Spirited discussion has taken place! and valid point from both sides.
    I’m all for calling a spade a spade as well, deployment of D was mysterious for the first half of our games played. No question there.

    However, that doesn’t mean Gully should take all the heat for this. We played nothing short of inconsistent during that span and our number 1 goalie, well he wasn’t exactly playing up to the hype.

    What do you do when things aren’t working? You change it up.
    You simplify, get back to basics as the old cliche suggests.

    That is what Gully did, and I do credit him for that. Gave the net to a hot goalie, paired his best D men together and created a more balanced attack with 3 forward lines and a grinding in your face 4th.

    Voila, success!

    Yes we can still question Brodie playing his left side, why Dougie doesn’t get more PP (all valid) but we are playing more structured and I do credit that to Gully

  • smith

    I am always surprised by the number of people who seem to think Hamilton is bad defensively. Who are they watching? Very few goals are scored when he is on the ice and the other teams have very few chances. How is that not being good defensively?

    It is like this crazy idea that Karlson cannot defend.

    • Baalzamon

      It’s mostly because people don’t know what defense looks like. To most people, “stay-at-home” is synonymous with “good defensively” and to those same people an “offensive” defenseman is automatically bad defensively (which is why players like Oliver Kylington and Adam Fox are so frequently overlooked at the draft in favor of plugs like Logan Stanley). As a result, the greater part of the hockey community frequently confuses bad defensemen with defensive defensemen (easily two thirds of the blueliners labelled “defensive” are in fact just really bad).

      Some “stay-at-home” defenders are in fact quite good. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Marc Methot, and Adam Larsson are good examples. Others are just bad; Roman Polak, Erik Gudbranson, and Jonathan Ericsson for instance.

      The bottom line is it’s better to prevent a shot from happening altogether than it is to block it or “keep it to the outside”. That’s why some players who aren’t “stay-at-home” defenders are actually defensive defensmen, in spite of public perception to the contrary (TJ Brodie is a good example of a player whose defensive contributions in general vastly outpace his offensive contributions, in spite of his “offensive” skillset and reputation. Jason Demers is another).

      … I guess I’ve digressed a little. The point is people point to Hamilton’s occasional giveaways and missed assignments (and yes, they are occasional, not frequent) and conclude that he’s bad defensively. But this ignores the fact that his ability to keep the puck away from the other team tends to keep his defensive impact from being suspect in the aggregate. He’s not Drew Doughty (or even Erik Karlsson), but his defensive ability is easily league average or better (and remember, we’re talking about a guy who is, at worst, plus plus on the offensive side).

      Also, playing with an elite all-around defender like Giordano doesn’t hurt. Hamilton basically had to play two positions at once when he was out there with Grossmann or Russell (and often Jokipakka too); is it any wonder he looked lost at times?

      • jupiter

        After Game 3,of this year I blogged that I felt that DH was playing poorly, to which you replied “What game were you watching”. “He was excellent” I replied that he took 3 penalties in the first couple of games, all of them the result of losing position. I do have a lot of respect for your perspective, but IMO I don,t think that most fans are as naïve as you believe in regard to assessing what makes a good defenseman. I personally don’t tag D-man as offensive or defensive. To be successful they need to play in all zones and under all circumstances. I have been a DH fan from the beginning and am well aware that he has been put in some situations by the coaches that are head scratching.

        When you say most people don’t know what defense looks like. You exaggerate.

        • piscera.infada

          When you say most people don’t know what defense looks like. You exaggerate.

          While probably true, I’m not sure I agree. There are consistently narratives that proves what he’s saying with that statement. For example, look at Russell: “he’s exactly what the Flames need right now” as one poster worded it a few days ago, or as many hockey reporters have written the last few months: “Russell is one of the biggest reasons for Edmonton’s turn around”. Both of those statements are patently false.

          It’s the perception of what makes a player a “defensive defender” that gets people into trouble. “Oh, that guy can sure stand forwards up at the blue-line”, or “that guy really clears the net well”. Sure, those can both be effective traits in a defensemen, but they alone do not inherently equate to “good defensively”. As Baalzamon said: “[t]he bottom line is it’s better to prevent a shot from happening altogether than it is to block it or “keep it to the outside””. That much is logical.

          That’s what’s vexing about the assertions of a player like Hamilton versus Russell. One is known as “poor defensively” because he makes some bad plays that stick out in the collective memory of fans. Whereas the other makes several bad plays, which are seemingly outweighed by “did you see that shot block on the penalty kill?”.

          • jupiter

            Agree with everything you said ,and IMO most fans would also agree with you.

            I guess my point is that DH is a excellent defenceman, but c’mon .A little criticism of a couple games getting a response of “You don’t know what defense is” is a little over the top.

      • ComeOn

        Hey, I am as big a homer as I can possibly admit, I haven’t gotten down on the team when things have been tough for most of the past four regular seasons…and I’ve paid my season’s tickets when I wasnt getting paid!

        But, I do have reasonable expectation of what happens in your defensive end. The Flames have attempted to partner offensively biased d men with more stay at home types for the past couple years and I appreciate the intent behind that. The more we can free up a d man to participate in the offensive side of the game the better.

        I don’t want a team full of stay at home d men!!!

        But, if you’re position of play in the game has a ‘D’ in it there are some things that it really helps your team out to do well. Yes, great corsie’s mean your advancing the puck up the ice and inherently allowing less opportunities, that’s great, I acknowledge that.

        All I’m trying to say is that I want a d man facing the threat in front of the net and not focused exclusively on behind the goal line. You don’t need to be a stay at home d man to do this, and Hamilton does a terrible job (as does any d man who gets scored on, it happens) at times in this regard.

  • Flaymin Frank

    DH is turning into that guy they thought he was going to be. It was a big move for him when he came out west; new team, new conference, and then a new coach. He’s figuring it out. Also – being paired with Gio isn’t a bad recipe for what ails any Flame player.

    What I’ve noticed is that he doesn’t rely on a cannon shot from the point. He’s mastered the sifter wrister, opting to effectively find the seam and getting shots thru instead of bouncing pucks off defender shin pads. And its paying off.


  • ComeOn

    I’m a bit disturbed by the angle here, nobody wants the second coming of Grossman, nobody wants to revert to an NHL where Suter is the model of a d man.

    But why the hell isn’t it fair to ask an offensively gifted d man to be able to be play D on set up offense in his owb zone? Why do Karlsson and Subban get these free rides on being deficient in their own zone?

    Its ridiculous for Karlsson to have 82 pts last year and be -2 on the year, what the hell is the point of producing offense if you stop nothing…because you’ve stopped next to nothing if, 80 goals were scored against while you were on the ice!

    Come on.