Dougie Hamilton had been doing so well.
Three penalties in Game 1 was bad enough, but against the Ducks specifically? If there was any one thing the Flames would have to do to have a chance at winning – any. one. thing – it was to stay out of the box, and he took three separate trips, all of them unforced errors.
But because he’s a top pairing defenceman for the Flames, he still got top minutes that game. He did in Game 2, as well.
And then, with five and a half minutes to go in the third period of a tied playoff game, he held Corey Perry’s stick.
Whether or not it was fair for him to get the only penalty on the play, fact is, he did hold the stick, and there was no reason for him to. It was his fourth penalty in just two games.
In these past two games, the Flames have taken 11 penalties in total. The Ducks have scored three powerplay goals. So that’s over a third of penalties that are Hamilton’s fault, and two of the Ducks’ three powerplay goals have come while Hamilton has been sitting in the box. If there weren’t already warning lights surrounding Hamilton after Game 1, we’ve upgraded to full on klaxons now.
And yet, Hamilton will continue to get big minutes for the Flames: because he remains one of the best defencemen they have, and will likely hold that title for years to come.
Think back to two years ago, when the Flames’ top pairing consisted of Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman, and Mark Giordano’s injury forced Deryk Engelland to partner up with T.J. Brodie. Going into that offseason, one of the things the Flames needed, more than anything else, was a top four guy: someone who would make the defence less of a train wreck after Giordano and Brodie. There were some names available in free agency: guys in their mid-late 20s, even, who could probably step in and help out immediately.
Instead, Brad Treliving ignored them and traded for a then-22-year-old who already had three years of NHL experience – plus 19 playoff games – under his belt.
It was a coup. It was exactly what this team needed in the worst way. It was a franchise-altering trade; for the Flames, the better. It really, truly cannot be properly stated just how big a difference Hamilton has made to this team.
And that’s with the adjustment period and the mismanagement along the way before things finally clicked earlier this season. Treat the top pairing defenceman like a top pairing defenceman, and chances are, he’ll reward you with top pairing defenceman play.
Everything is so much more amplified in the playoffs, and not necessarily in a good way. A season lasts 82 games; a playoff series isn’t even a 10th as long. Every success is blown out of proportion, just as every failure is.
So yeah – of all the Flames as of late, Hamilton has probably been the most boneheaded among them. So let’s take a moment to recall his regular season contributions, the 81-game sample size that means more than a brief two game slate ever will:
- 50 points: first among Flames defencemen, fourth in team scoring, ninth among defencemen league-wide.
- 222 shots: first among all Flames, fifth among defencemen league-wide.
- 55.53% 5v5 CF: first among Flames defencemen, third on the team, sixth among regular defenceman league-wide (raw corsi only).
- 47.93% offensive zone starts: third worst among regular Flames defencemen, ahead of just Engelland and Brodie; leauge-wide, worse than the five defencemen with better corsi (and the only one below 50%).
- elevated Giordano from a 46.9% CF to 56.7% – only a 0.4% increase in Giordano’s zone starts.
The Flames aren’t anywhere near the playoffs without Hamilton, let alone in a position to be grumpy about his taking four penalties in two games.
Could Hamilton be better this postseason? Absolutely, and I doubt he himself would disagree. But of all the faults the Flames have experienced in these two games, his are the least concerning, because he has more than the power to make up for it.
Whether he’ll be able to within the short time constraints of a playoff series remains to be seen – but the Flames are unquestionably a better team with Hamilton on the ice, and for everything he’s achieved this entire year, he’s earned multiple chances.
Which is why Glen Gulutzan will continue to go back to him, mistakes and undisciplined play aside: because he’s still one of their best chances to win this thing.