Did Hurricanes’ Hamilton Leave His Game in Calgary?

The Carolina Hurricanes and the Calgary Flames made a big trade this past offseason. Part of that trade moved Flames defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Hurricanes. At the time, it was received by Hurricanes fans as a positive move for their team. Now it is being looked at with a questioning lens. Some are wondering if Hamilton left his game in Calgary.

Pre-Hurricanes Hamilton

Hamilton has been a good defenseman in the NHL and justifiably regarded as such. According to the press release released by the Hurricanes when they announced the trade, “Hamilton, 25, scored a career-high 17 goals in 2017-18, tied for the most in the NHL by a defenseman. He ranked second among NHL defensemen in shots last season (270) and posted a career-high in time on ice per game (21:32).”

Dougie Hamilton, Calgary Flames
Pre-Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Hurricanes needed (and still need) all the scoring they can get, so from that standpoint, getting Hamilton was viewed as a positive. They gave up 2017-18 all-star Noah Hanifin to the Flames to get Hamilton. But Hamilton brought more production and, as a veteran presence, was viewed as a good acquisition for the Hurricanes even though Hanifin would be gone.

The one piece of baggage that Hamilton carried was a reputation of not being a good presence in the locker room. A reminder here of what Eric Francis of Sportsnet wrote on June 23 in response to the trade: “Despite having most of the tools and stats a player could possibly possess, the 6-foot-6 210-pound offensive blueliner has now been traded twice in four seasons – a rarity for a player with his numbers and stature. A red flag for most teams, making him harder to trade than casual observers would think.” Even back in 2015 when the Boston Bruins traded Hamilton to the Flames, there were rumors of him not getting along with his teammates.

Regarding that trade, Mark Burke wrote for letsgobruins.net, “…one assistant general manager told the Herald’s Stephen Harris that Hamilton was a problem in the locker room, with the 21-year-old described as ‘a loner and sort of an uppity kid,’ and it was ‘unanimous’ that his teammates did not like him.”

Of course, there are two sides to every story, but the bottom line is that the Hurricanes brought in a top offensive defenseman when they traded for Hamilton and were not dissuaded by rumors of friction between him and his Bruins or Flames teammates.

Post-Flames Hamilton

Since leaving the Flames and joining the Hurricanes, Hamilton’s offensive production has been disappointing. Some wonder if he left his game in Calgary. His current stat line through 37 games with the Hurricanes this season is three goals and seven assists for 10 points. He has a plus/minus of minus-15 this season, behind his plus-one last season and a plus-12 in 2016-17.

The plus/minus statistic is sometimes overused and assigned too much weight, but in Hamilton’s case, at the very least it shows that his game is not what it was the past couple of seasons. Obviously, there are a myriad of possible reasons that could explain the difference in plus/minus, and admittedly a great number of those reasons might not be Hamilton’s fault.

But, again, something is not what it was with his offensive production. A quick look at some of his stats last season compared to this season was compiled by Tyler Dellow of The Athletic. The point of his piece was to look at Hamilton in light of how he played last season with the Flames when paired with defenseman Mark Giordano, and how both players are doing this season apart from each other.

Dellow used a tweet by Darren Haynes, a contributor to both the Canadian Press and The Athletic, as a starting point in his article. Haynes’ tweet shows the stat lines for both players for last year through a full season of 82 games and so 32 games this year:

The simple response to the tweet by Haynes is that Giordano is having a better season offensively and Hamilton is having a worse one. That is a pretty simple statement which Dellow then goes on to dive into a little deeper:

“Let’s start with the points. Points for defencemen are, in large part, a reflection of opportunity. You know who’s been getting a lot of opportunity on PP1 this year? Mark Giordano. You know who hasn’t been getting a lot of opportunity on PP1 this year? Dougie Hamilton” And the Dellow also notes:

“Hamilton, on the other hand, is currently playing on Carolina’s second unit. Second units are notoriously inept and Carolina further hamstrings theirs by running with a 3F2D. Ninety-seven percent of Hamilton’s time has been in a 3F2D. Good luck getting credited with points out of that.” (From Dellow: An analytical look at early returns to see who drove the Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton pairing – Tyler Dellow – The Athletic, Dec. 19, 2018).

Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Whether or not sliding Hamilton up to the first power play unit would result in him increasing his production is not known. However, it might be something Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour should consider. Especially in view of how awful the ‘Canes power play has been of late.

Current Hurricanes Hamilton

What does one make of Hamilton’s offensive falloff this season? Dellow pointed out in a follow-up piece in The Athletic about Hamilton that his shot volume was high with the Flames and is still high with the Hurricanes. But the entire Hurricanes game has thus far this season been a high-volume shot total. Hamilton is simply fitting right in even though it’s easy for him to do so.

Dellow made this point which may sum things up: “There are undoubtedly criticisms that you can make of Hamilton’s game. That sort of thing gets turned way up when you leave a high profile media market where you were playing with an excellent partner and move to a smaller one and your old team excels while your new team struggles.” (From “Dellow: No, Dougie Hamilton’s on-ice shot numbers aren’t being cheaply inflated” – Tyler Dellow – The Athletic, Dec. 28, 2018).

The entire Hurricanes team is struggling offensively. It’s not just Hamilton. Be that as it may, it cannot be denied that his production is dramatically lower than it has been, and that is cause for concern. If Hamilton’s game got lost when he flew into Raleigh to join the Hurricanes, it would be nice if it showed up soon.