The Philadelphia Flyers’ offseason is heating up sooner than expected. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, considered by many to be the most viable insider covering the NHL, reported that the Carolina Hurricanes have granted pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) defenseman Dougie Hamilton the right to speak to other teams.
The Hurricanes finished first in the Discover Central Division this season. Hamilton and defenseman Jaccob Slavin were a major part of their success, and indications suggest that Hamilton is content in his current situation. However, Pierre LeBrun reported last week on The Athletic Hockey Show that talks of a contract extension broke down early in the season (from The Athletic Hockey Show, Tampa advances, Winnipeg packs up, Dougie Hamilton’s future in Raleigh, Montreal awaits a winner between Colorado and Vegas, 6/9/21). The probable breaking point was that the Hurricanes were not prepared to offer him the money that he expects to receive in free agency, leaving Hamilton to choose between the highest financial bidders and the favorable spot that he has grown accustomed to in Carolina over the past three seasons.
Perfect Fit in Philadelphia
Hamilton has played nine seasons in the NHL for the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, and Hurricanes since being drafted ninth overall by the Bruins in 2011. He has built a reputation as an effective puck-moving defenseman. He registered 10 goals and 32 assists in 55 games for Carolina in 2020-21 while serving as a key contributor to the second-ranked power play in the NHL, finishing tied for sixth among NHL defensemen in points with the man advantage. The analytical stats also favor Hamilton. His expected goal percentage (xG%) was 56.55 last season, a number consistent with his averages since the 2017-18 season.
The primary need for the Flyers this offseason is a right-shot defenseman to partner with 24-year-old Ivan Provorov, and Hamilton’s offensive-minded style would effectively complement Provorov’s workhorse style on the top pair. Head coach Alain Vigneault and assistant/power play coach Michel Therrien would likely insert Hamilton on the top power play unit immediately.
Potential Sign-and-Trade in Carolina
LeBrun and co-host Scott Burnside also speculated about the range of Hamilton’s contract expectations in terms of average annual value (AAV) as compared to the two top free agent defensemen on the market last offseason. They estimated that he would ask for a number similar to defenseman Alex Pietrangelo of the Vegas Golden Knights, who signed for seven years at an AAV of $8.8 million last offseason. They mentioned that the Hurricanes, on the other hand, would likely offer him a contract comparable to Torey Krug’s seven-year deal at a $6.5 million AAV with the St. Louis Blues.
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If the Hurricanes are not willing to pay Hamilton and fear losing him in free agency, it makes sense for them to maximize his value and collect any available assets while they still can. A sign-and-trade involving Hamilton would also allow the 27-year-old to sign an eight-year deal while still with his current team as opposed to the maximum seven-year deal he would otherwise be eligible for in free agency.
Weighing Options for Philadelphia
The Flyers own more tradable assets than most teams in the NHL, and their obvious need for a defenseman of Hamilton’s caliber and style makes Philadelphia an ideal landing spot. Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, during his first offseason with the organization in 2019, acquired the rights to impending UFA Kevin Hayes for a fifth-round draft pick. He quickly signed Hayes to a seven-year, $50 million deal before free agency began.
While it’s unclear what kind of return package Carolina would ask for, they don’t have much leverage considering the ticking clock of an impending UFA. Further complicating matters, though, is the Flyers’ salary cap situation. They will still need to sign goaltender Carter Hart, who is a restricted free agent, and the flat salary cap provides limited flexibility. One potential option is trading either Travis Sanheim, an RFA who made $3.25 million in AAV over the past two seasons, or Philippe Myers, who is due $2.55 million in AAV through 2022-23. Moving one of the two young defensemen would also make sense, considering that the acquisition of Hamilton would also require a protection spot in the upcoming expansion draft. One of either Sanheim or Myers would, in all likelihood, be left exposed to the Seattle Kraken if they both remain on the roster following a deal for Hamilton.
The acquisition of Dougie Hamilton in any capacity makes sense for the Flyers. Trade packages for defenseman Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets are likely to far exceed Carolina’s asking price for Hamilton, and both players will garner similarly expensive contracts. The disappointment of the 2020-21 Flyers season following a relatively inactive offseason, the premium opportunity to acquire an ideal fit and the reported possibility of a sign-and-trade should spur Fletcher to aggressively pursue Hamilton before he even enters free agency.