Much was expected when the Flames acquired Travis Hamonic from the New York Islanders in the summer of 2017. Considering the price Calgary paid (a first and two seconds), high expectations go with the territory and Hamonic didn’t deliver. The start to this season is a completely different story, though; Hamonic looks like a different player and the numbers back him up emphatically.
Hamonic’s 2018-19 started rather unceremoniously courtesy Vancouver’s Erik Gudbranson. While he earned some solid street cred sticking up for teammate Dillon Dube, Hamonic’s season barely got off the ground before missing eight games with facial fractures. Since returning, though, Hamonic has played his best hockey as a member of the Flames. His on-ice totals at five-on-five speak to that (scoring chance data courtesy Natural Stat Trick).
Hamonic’s shot rate is tops amongst all Calgary defencemen, which is impressive, but his high danger scoring chance rate is even more notable. Nobody on the team at any position has a better ratio in top quality chances; Hamonic has been on the ice for 47 high danger chances for and just 22 against. Yes, his 10-game sample size is small, but it doesn’t change how impressive those numbers are.
Just as telling is how Hamonic’s regular partner has fared thus far. Underlying evidence would strongly suggest Hamonic has carried Noah Hanifin on the team’s second pairing, which supports everything I’ve seen. Below are Hanifin’s metrics with and without Hamonic; the comparison is more staggering that I was expecting.
|With Hamonic||Without Hamonic|
Based on both visual and analytic evidence, the Flames have a much better second pairing with a healthy Hamonic. Knowing how he and TJ Brodie played last year, that wasn’t something I was wholly anticipating. In saying that, Hamonic deserves a ton of credit: he’s not only playing his best hockey with Calgary, he’s played some of the best hockey of his career.
So what’s behind Hamonic’s marked improvement? There’s no definitive answer, but I’ll toss out a couple theories. First, I wonder if it came down to a bad fit with Brodie. Sometimes guys just aren’t meant to play with one another, which may have been compounded by Brodie’s preference to play the right side; he was playing the left with Hamonic last season.
I also think it takes a lot of blueliners time to fully adjust to new surroundings. After seven seasons with the Islanders, Hamonic had plenty to get used to, on and off the ice, last year. We all remember how much better Dougie Hamilton was in year two compared to his first season with Calgary, so it’s more than reasonable to think Hamonic’s improvement could be down to nothing more than an increased comfort level.
Whatever the reason, Hamonic is thriving. I don’t use phrases like “the best hockey of his career” lightly, but in this case, it’s tough to argue. Without sheltered or tailored minutes, Hamonic’s underlying metrics are significantly better than anything we’ve seen from him over the last four seasons.
I’ll mention sample size again, because it’s important to remember Hamonic has only played 10 games. Even if he doesn’t keep up this pace, though, Hamonic looks like he’s ready to be the player Calgary targeted over a year ago: someone to solidify the second pair.
As we approach the quarter mark, Mark Giordano has been this team’s best defenceman, which is in line with expectations. To see Hamonic slot in as the definitive number two is a nice surprise, though, and bodes well for the Flames going forward, both this season and beyond.
With Giordano and Hamonic anchoring their respective pairs, and with the emergence of Juuso Valimaki and Rasmus Andersson, Calgary has a very well-slotted top six with everyone healthy. Having Michael Stone as a rotating number seven is a nice luxury to have, too. It would be tough to say that if Hamonic was playing at the level he did last season.
If this is something he can sustain for a few more years, it also looks good on this team’s salary cap. The Flames have Hamonic under contract at $3.857 million for one more year after this, which is an attractive number regardless, but looks even better currently.
He’ll be 30 when it’s time for a new contract, which means Hamonic likely won’t be commanding a significant raise. If his play resembles what we’ve seen this season over the next 100 games or so, another couple years isn’t out of the question. At worst, Calgary looks to have an affordable top four defenceman under contract until the end of next season.