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Travis Hamonic is off to the best start of his career

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.

THIS SEASON

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).

TOI/G CF% HDCF% OZS%
17:22 58.4 62.0 50.0

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
CF% HDCF% CF% HDCF%
61.7 67.2 48.3 39.5

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.

FRESH SLATE

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Season GP CF% HDCF% OZS%
2018-19 10 58.4 62.0 50.0
2017-18 74 51.1 51.2 50.0
2016-17 49 43.9 46.2 44.9
2015-16 72 50.6 48.0 49.8
2014-15 71 50.9 57.0 51.5

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.

GOING FORWARD

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.



  • buts

    Hamonics resurgence is due to Hanifin. What about 4 goals scored in California in 3 games? Offence has dried up. Time to move Backlund to 3 rd line and off the PP. Got to get Neal away from Bennett and MT away rom Backlund. Theres 2 great top lines if BP can figure out that Neal and Dube need to be top 6.

      • Flint

        While it may be true that Neal has struggled, he was given exactly 3secs + 57secs + 29secs in the last HALF of the game vs SJ. A total of 1:29 out of the final 30:34.

        Say what you want about Neal, but if you don’t play, you can’t score. And I just rewatched the game cause it’s free on NHL.com and he was not bad in the first half of the game.

        Neal is a goal scorer, that’s why he’s paid 5,75mil. It’s one thing if he’s playing poorly and doing nothing with 18 minutes a night. But, you know how many goals highly paid goal scorers get with no playing time? The answer starts and ends with zero.

        If Bill Peters is trying to make an enemy out of Neal which started before even 15 games into the season, he’s going to do a good job. And there should have been a bit more talking and understanding of the player before they shelled that money out.

        Backlund was terrible against San Jose, also did nothing positive, but hey… he got 18:25.

  • MDG1600

    Seeing how much better Hamonic is this year makes me hope we have not seen the best of Hanifin yet either. Last year Hamonic looked like he felt he had to play second fiddle to Brodie and was not very assertive. Complete opposite for Hamonic this year but I do see a little hesitation sometimes with Hanafin.

  • LannyMac

    It would appear that a lot of new players seem to take as much as a year to adjust to new teams. Having said that the best defenceman in the league would have struggled with Brodie last year. That brings me to something off topic every person on this site who figures they have the line combination that will work for James Neal is sadly mistaken. The only thing that will get Neal going is for him to stop dragging his sorry a$$. If he doesn’t stop looking like Brouwer out there. If I was BP I would hand the idiot a small bucket and point to popcorn maker. I hope BT has had a private conversation with him about who is going down with him if this team fails.

  • Off the wall

    So far this season, we are witnessing surprises in the NHL.
    The Canucks are tops of the Pacific??
    The Rangers are putting together a decent season. The veteran goaltending in the league, is struggling, with a few exceptions.

    Parity, or parody? I don’t know which. Stanley Cup Champions just over.500. Yikes!

    Montreal, Buffalo and NYR were supposed to be awful in the East.
    Same with Vancouver and Arizona in the West. I rub my googly eyes and wonder what the heck is going on.

    Not exactly how I saw the first 20% of our NHL season unfold, did you?

    • cjc

      It’s still early. Vancouver is not going to keep this up – they are near the bottom of the league in the share of high-danger chances.

      The Rangers have looked better than most thought, but they are getting a classic Lundquist season and strong backup goaltending. But they still have a -3 goal differential.

      Many in the analytics community thought that Washington was only okay, and they are getting out-chanced by a 3:2 ratio. I’m sure it’s just Tom Wilson’s absence though. /s

      Buffalo and Arizona were obvious picks to improve, seems both have.

      There are things that look exactly as they should. TB/TOR/BOS 1-2-3 in the Atlantic? Yup. SJ nearly on top of the Pacific? Check. Nashville leading the central by a lot. You got it.

        • cjc

          Actually, Vegas was regularly out-shooting and out-chancing opponents last year. They combined that with sky-high percentages and MAF turning in a career year, which is why they went on a run to the finals (and why they seem so bad this year). If Vegas was getting competent goaltending, they would be right there with San Jose and Calgary.

          Vancouver isn’t going to keep this up, but Pettersson is the kind of player who could carry a team a long way.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        I will say this about VANCOUVER, they are well coached and the future looks bright. I was never a Virtanen fan but he seems to have found his game. There secondary scoring is really strong.

        • Jumping Jack Flash

          Speaking of Virtanen, I think Bennett is twice the player but Virtanen has a great shot and quick release something Bennett has yet to develop.

        • cjc

          Virtanen off to a great start, BUT only 2 assists and shooting over double his career numbers. He is shooting the puck lots, which is never a bad thing, but he’ll come back to earth eventually.

  • Seabass

    With the knee injury he suffered, this is the timeline that should have been expected for a full return to form (1 and a half to 2 years of playing time). We know the player can step back on the ice, but to regain full strength and mobility, not to mention confidence, this is it. I’m thrilled he has made it back. Keep it up Hammer.

  • MontanaMan

    It’s all about the timing. Hamonic picked his spots and jumped in at exactly the right time. Don’t forget he also came to Tkachuk’s defence in Detroit last year as well. Your comment about “getting the crap kicked out of you” is ridiculous at best. Hamonic got hurt this year jumping in against a much bigger and tougher opponent but he was up for the challenge and showed his young teammates what leadership is about. Clearly you’ve never played on a team to see what impact this has.

    • LannyMac

      Clearly Montana man you know absolutely nothing about sticking up for your mates otherwise guys like Bennett, Hath, Hammer wouldn’t have to constantly do the ruff stuff by themselves with no back up. I know for s fact by your comment you have never come to the aid of a friend or a teammate in a fight. I’m guessing you would stand to the side like most of the players on your beloved flames.

  • Flint

    Hamonic is a solid defenseman and a super quality guy and teammate. I love the trade… it’s a lot to give up, but we got a lot back. Anyone who wasn’t burying their head in the sand saw how bad Brodie was last year, and I said it all year long, Hamonic was driving the bus on that pairing.

    It’s good to see that things are coming around. Let’s not forget… Hanafin is really young, he looks fine for a 21 year old defenseman playing second pairing. Does he have a ways to go?… yeah of course, but for being just 21 he’s off to a damn fine start.

  • TheBear64

    I was excited when that trade happened, because I new that Hamonic was good, I saw lots of him vs the Bruins when he was on the island. Last season was pretty disappointing because I new he was a lot better than what he showed then. Great to see that he’s found his game this season. He’s been a real positive force out there and he’s doing lots of things right. I

  • oilcanboyd

    Niemi will be in the nets for the Habs tonight against the oilers. Oilers face another back-up while we get Price on Thursday…Oilers have an 8.5 million dollar center – Draisaitl – who cannot drive his own line and is playing the wing with McDavid again…what an overpay for a winger!!!!

    • The GREAT WW

      “The Oilers don’t have any NHL wingers…..”

      What happened to HALL, Eberle, Yakupov, Barzal, Yamamoto, Puljujujarvi…..?
      Plenty of “NHL” wingers…..

      WW

  • SeethingRed

    Hammer…what a great team guy!
    I honestly think teams get way more out of what he did (standing up for teammate) than anybody Peluso may kick the crap out of…we need a forward like Hammer and then I think our roster would really gel..just don’t think Neal is that guy…hope I’m wrong…takes a while to “bond” with new teammates enough to undergo facial surgery for them…ugghhh poor Travis

    • Luter 1

      Sorry getting the crapped kicked out of you in a scrap doesn’t seemed to have bonded this team, they still don’t back each other near enough as evidenced by a number of scrums when a Flames agitator is ganged upon by 2 or 3 opponents with no or slow response by teamates. Bennett was crosschecked in the back by two different sharks after the whistle while engaged with another player and his linemates did zip. I was hoping Peters wouldn’t allow this to happen again this year but unfortunately nobody is stepping up. Hey Neal, got something you can endear your linemates with – a bodycheck, scrap or some truculence, do something man!

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I have been trying to think of comparables for Bennett and I don’t mean players like Backlund and Kadri that eventually carved out a nice role in the NHL. I am thinking of a current or previous players that are a heart and soul guys that generated good scoring opportunities but no puck luck or finish.

    I don’t usually believe in puck luck but this dude has a black cloud over his head that a subscription to the “The Secret” would be hard pressed to fix. I can think of several goals called back, missed empty nets, shots hitting his own teammates that were going in. I can even think of his bad luck impacting his linemates like when he knocked Johnny’s tooth out with an errant stick. I realize these things happen to players all the time….but to the same player.

    He has played with good players and not so good players, he has played center, both wings, he has played PP and PK with little success. It really defies logic that a player that is skilled and generates decent scoring chances but has little to show on the scoreboard. I am sure other teams feel they have hard luck players but I can’t think of any. I admire Bennett’s perserverance and drive and would love to see him rewarded more than any player. Somewhere there is a voodoo doll of Bennett in someone’s basement.

    • Off the wall

      That was funny, as well as very accurate.
      Perhaps Bennett should have chose #39 instead, after his idol Doug Gilmour?
      Maybe that’s why everything he touches is (93) backwards?!

    • Spider you muda&@#ker

      I can think of a guy his name was Mathew Lombardi definatley didnt have the physicality of Bennett but the guy had tons of breakaways and tons of chances seemed to always find a way to not put the puck in the net. I think Paul Byron was alot like that aswell heart and soul guy tons of speed just no finish wasn’t till he put on a new jersey did the puck start going in.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Just a thought from the Oilers vs Canadians game, we may not want to sit one of our fastest guys in Czarnik against these burners. This teams reminds me of the old Russian teams, no giants just blazing fast players that are built like like fire hydrants….Gallagher, Shaw, Dome, Mete etc are all really strong on their feet. I wonder how a team like this will do in the playoffs when there is less space and more clutching.