In the summer of 2017, the Calgary Flames traded their 2018 first round pick and two second rounders to the New York Islanders in exchange for the final three years of defenseman Travis Hamonic’s contract.
Well, those three years have come and gone. Was the acquisition cost worth it? Probably not. Has Hamonic been a good Flame? As a leader and a presence in the community, without a doubt—he was a well-deserving nominee for the 2018 King Clancy Award.
As a defenseman? Well, his mileage certainly varied over the course of the last three years. He followed up a tremendous 2018–19 season with a rather pedestrian 2019–20 year. Let’s take a deeper look.
2019-20 season summary
The Flames leaned on Hamonic very heavily this season and he provided them with mixed results, at best.
(Data courtesy of NaturalStatTrick)
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First of all, the good. Hamonic played 17:12 per night for the Flames at even-strength this year, the second-most of anyone on the Flames (only behind Noah Hanifin’s 17:13). He played some of the toughest minutes on the team, with his 54.09% defensive-zone face-off percentage the highest of any Flames defenseman. That’s a hard role to fill effectively.
Here’s the bad news: Hamonic didn’t fill that role very effectively. The Flames allowed 3.35 goals-per-60 when Hamonic was on the ice. That was the highest rate on the team in 2019-20. T.J. Brodie was also hammered with defensive-zone face-offs but the Flames allowed 2.41 goals-per-60 with him on the ice. Noah Hanifin and Mark Giordano also saw very tough match-ups and yet the Flames allowed 2.84 and 2.05 goals-per-60 when they were on the ice.
The Flames also struggled mightily in terms of expected goals against/60 and scoring chances against/60 when Hamonic was on the ice. No Flames regular performed worse defensively this year than Hamonic. This isn’t a symptom of him being a “defensive defenseman” or anything, either—the Flames played decent offensive hockey with Hamonic on the ice, averaging 2.44 expected goals for/60 and 2.51 goals for/60 with him on the ice, both top-10 marks on the team. But they simultaneously suffered mightily in their own zone.
In short, the Flames played very high-event hockey with Hamonic on the ice. They averaged 59.28 shot attempts for/60 with him on the ice and 61.24 shot attempts against/60 with him playing at even-strength, for a total of over 120 shot attempts-per-game. Hamonic remains a decent penalty-killer and a solid physical presence, but he’s no longer the defenseman he’s been in the past. He looks to be getting a little bit slower and less confident in his positioning.
Hamonic opted out of the NHL’s return-to-play program in July, citing family considerations. It should be made 100% clear that Hamonic made a completely defensible and brave choice in choosing to spend time with his family during an incredibly volatile and dangerous time.
Compared to last season
Hamonic had a really good year in 2018–19, meshing really well with Noah Hanifin and Mark Giordano at even-strength and on the PK, respectively. His expected goals percentage of 55.49% placed him fifth-best on the team.
He played slightly more sheltered minutes in 2018-19, starting with offensive-zone draws almost 52% of the time, but he also drove offensive play surprisingly well, leading the team in one-ice high-danger shot attempts/60, scoring chances/60, and expected goals for/60.
Hamonic also came through with some notably clutch defensive plays last season, coming up with a game-saving blocked shot in the Flames’ 3-2 win over Chicago on December 2, 2018 and blocking six big chances in the Flames’ Game 1 victory over Colorado in the 2019 first round. But it’s not always easy to define the value of blocked shots.
This year, Hamonic didn’t play nearly as well in the offensive zone and his defensive play suffered mightily. He lost a couple of steps in his own end and looks to be on the verge of a bit of a decline.
What about next season?
Barring something unforeseen, Hamonic will be an unrestricted free-agent come Oct. 9. If players like Karl Alzner, Michael Stone, Jack Johnson, and Brendan Smith are of any indication, the Flames might be wise to avoid giving Hamonic a new contract with big term or salary. Those players cashed in based on their defensive acumen and toughness, but their teams all saw severely diminishing returns as soon as the first years of their new deals. Teams are still seemingly more than content to keep giving out these types of contracts, too.
That said, Hamonic still possesses attributes that would make him appealing on a cheaper deal. He shoots right-handed and can certainly be counted on to play penalty-killing minutes. His chance-suppressing metrics this year on the PK were decidedly solid, if unspectacular. He just shouldn’t be leaned upon to play top-pairing minutes. He’s best-suited as a #4 defenseman next to a good partner.
Will the Flames be interested? Right now, they only have Rasmus Andersson and Alexander Yelesin signed to play right defense for them next year. It’s more likely than not that Hamonic tests the market, and he’ll probably find a decent contract in the 4 years x $4 million range from a team like Winnipeg that is desperate to add defensive help. But, if that contract doesn’t materialize, it’s feasible to see Hamonic circling back to Calgary on a “prove-it” deal.
The bottom line is this: Hamonic, like most players, will probably be good value for a team if he’s given a contract that he can outperform. For the last three years in Calgary, he’s been solid value on a $3.857 million contract. But he’s now 30 years old, and players of Hamonic’s type frequently see a massive drop-off in their quality of play around that age. Even a $3.857 million contract for three more years at this point might be difficult for Hamonic to outperform.
2020 Player Evaluations
Mark Giordano | Sean Monahan | Sam Bennett | Johnny Gaudreau | Elias Lindholm | Dillon Dube | Milan Lucic | Rasmus Andersson | Andrew Mangiapane | Cam Talbot | David Rittich | Noah Hanifin | Matthew Tkachuk | Derek Ryan