Looking at the standings, you can probably gather that the Carolina Hurricanes are having a pretty impressive start to the season. You could also gather from Dougie Hamilton’s stat line that he’s been red hot out of the gate. But beyond that, what the numbers don’t tell is the way Hurricanes fans and their hockey team have come together over the past year.
Through fan interaction, storm surges and actually winning games, the Hurricanes have made a special kind of connection with the Caniacs in Raleigh. But it’s one of the newer guys who has endeared himself most to those fans. Now enjoying his second season with the Hurricanes, Hamilton has gelled wonderfully with this team and city, and finally found a place to call home.
Overcoming a History of Inconsistency
Hamilton, a Toronto native, was drafted ninth overall by the Boston Bruins in 2011. He played three seasons in Boston, and was one of their top defensemen, even in the early years of his career. The Bruins had hopes he would evolve into their new No. 1 guy, taking up the mantle when Zdeno Chara retired. But when it came time for a new contract in the summer of 2015, the Bruins made the decision not to shell out the money needed to re-sign him. Instead, they traded his rights to the Calgary Flames.
Hamilton spent three years in Calgary, and enjoyed three straight seasons of 40-plus points. But things got dicey in his final season with the Flames. His brother and teammate, Freddie Hamilton, was put on waivers in Jan. 2018, and the Arizona Coyotes swooped in and claimed him. Dougie was later asked how he felt about losing his brother to another team, but wouldn’t elaborate, only stating: “I’m just here to talk about the game.” (from ‘Flames lose Dougie Hamilton’s brother, Freddie, on waivers,’ Calgary Sun, 01/04/2018)
It was clear to everyone that Hamilton was unhappy to see his brother go. And all while that was going on, rumors were circulating about him not fitting in with the culture of the Flames’ dressing room, which were similar to rumors that emerged before his departure in Boston.
Anonymous sources suggested Hamilton’s more introverted, “uppity” nature was off-putting to his teammates. (from ‘Harris: Don Sweeney’s first Bruins draft less than impressive,’ Boston Herald, 06/28/2015)
Whether that’s true or not is irrelevant now, but during those times of speculation, people were searching for any reason why such a talented, young defenseman was having so much trouble finding comfort and consistency.
Third Team’s the Charm
Cue the Hurricanes. General manager Don Waddell took a sizable risk when he pulled the trigger on the Hamilton blockbuster in the summer of 2018. Hamilton had a certain reputation stamped to him, having gone through a similar kind of drama with two NHL clubs. But now, it seems he’s found exactly what he was looking for in this tight-knit group, and he’s having fun doing it.
Head coach Rod Brind’Amour and former captain Justin Williams pulled this team together in such a unique way last season and it’s carried over in the early parts of 2019-20, even with Williams now out of the picture. The Hurricanes are continuing their remarkable play with Hamilton leading the charge, and ‘Canes fans are showing the love.
Hamilton was the hero on opening night on Oct. 3 against the Montreal Canadiens when he scored the shootout winner, kick-starting Carolina’s scorching start to this season. If you count that shootout goal, Hamilton has scored in five of the six games this season. But above his on-ice brilliance, a particularly special moment came after the 4-3 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 6. After being named the first star of the game, he stepped onto the ice at PNC Arena in Raleigh and gave a post-game interview that got a little emotional.
Drowned out by chants of “Dougie! Dougie! Dougie!” from the Hurricanes crowd, Hamilton kept his answers short and to-the-point, but it was a powerful and moving moment for him, whose journey to this point had been soaked in complexity.
Hamilton is Helping to Fuel the Red-Hot Hurricanes
Statistically, Hamilton is off to the best start of his career. He’s scored eight points in six games as the Hurricanes have gone 5-1-0 out of the gate and sit tied for second place in the NHL. His four goals and four assists tie him for the team-lead in points, and he also leads all NHL defensemen in goals.
Hamilton has always put up strong offensive numbers. He’s scored 10 or more goals in five straight seasons and has been in the top-10 in goals among NHL blueliners for each of the past three. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, no defenseman has scored more goals than Hamilton.
His defensive ability and lack of discipline may be the only things keeping him from being recognized as one of the league’s best. But Hamilton is a specialized shooter, and although he can play erratically at times, there’s no sweat when your partner is Jaccob Slavin.
Playing with exceptional partners is nothing new to Hamilton. The 6-foot-6, 229-pound defenseman has spent most of his career paired with Chara in Boston, Mark Giordano in Calgary, and now Slavin. The opportunity to team with three of the most elite defensemen of the past decade may have stunted his defensive development, but it’s also given him the support he’s needed to use his skills – jumping into the rush and making confident, aggressive risks.
Those risks sometimes led to turnovers, or getting himself caught out of position, and that’s one of the symptoms of the Hamilton effect. For all the heat he has faced – whether it’s deserved or undeserved – it’s all part of what led the Bruins and Flames to decide it was better for them to just trade their problems away.
Betting on Hamilton may have been a gamble, but the Hurricanes’ ability to unite a team that nobody thought could be this good has only benefited the 26-year-old. It’s exactly the kind of unity between city and team he needed to finally grow into his own.