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Musing about Hamilton’s slow start with Hurricanes

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When the Carolina Hurricanes traded for Dougie Hamilton, it felt like a near-perfect match. The Hurricanes needed (and maybe still need) finishers to round out a puck-dominant offense; Hamilton’s career has been frustrating in that it feels like he hasn’t always reached his potential.

That frustration is continuing very early on during Hamilton’s first few games with the Hurricanes.

With 39 shots on goal over nine games, Hamilton’s fired the fifth-most pucks on net so far in 2018-19. Hamilton’s generated more SOG than volume-shooters Jack Eichel, David Pastrnak, and Patrik Laine so far this season – not to mention leading all NHL defensemen – and yet he doesn’t have a single goal to show for it.

For a prolific defenseman like Hamilton, his overall stats are frustrating: zero goals and three assists through nine games.

The good news is that the Hurricanes are off to a strong start overall, as they lead the up-and-down Metropolitan Division with 11 points in nine games (5-3-1). While that edge is a little misleading – again, it’s early, and there’s a disparity between games played – it’s a positive sign that Carolina’s been able to shake off frustrations that can come with generating a barrage of chances without finishing many of them. They’re buoyed, for instance, by the continued rise of budding star Sebastian Aho, Forward Version.

Still, Rod Brind’Amour will ultimately be judged by getting the most out of this Hurricanes talent, and optimizing Hamilton stands as one of the greatest opportunities.

So far, irritations from other stops have carried over.

You could argue that Hamilton’s simply the odd-man out. Carolina is brimming with other quality choices as far as right-handed defensemen go, as Hamilton must tussle with Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce, and Trevor van Riemsdyk for different opportunities.

Perhaps that explains why, after averaging a career-high 21:32 TOI last season with Calgary, Hamilton’s down to 19:41 per night with the Hurricanes. (That average oddly matches his mark from 2016-17, and is very close to his 19:46 average from 2015-16.)

Again, the Hurricanes are loaded with defensive talent, so Brind’Amour can pick and choose who he wants to roll out in which situations. Pesce, for instance, would likely be the best guy for tougher defensive assignments.

The point of debate comes on the power play, as would-be perfect minutes are being eaten up by Faulk, a right-handed defenseman many expected to see traded to break up this logjam in Carolina.

Through nine games in 2018-19, Faulk is easily the power-play minutes leader, quarterbacking the top unit while averaging 3:37 PP TOI per game. Hamilton isn’t even the Hurricanes’ second-ranked defenseman, as his 2:18 comes up a bit short compared to Jaccob Slavin‘s 2:26 per contest. Hamilton’s down from his power-play average from 2017-18 with Calgary, and that’s with a Norris-level defenseman in Mark Giordano leading the way.

Brind’Amour and his staff should be asking this question: “Are we leaving goals off the table by putting Faulk on the top unit instead of Hamilton?”

With a 12.1-percent success rate, the Hurricanes currently own the fourth-least efficient power play in the NHL. They were the 10th-worst group last season. That’s not all on Faulk, yet the American-born defenseman also topped all Hurricanes in power-play ice time last season. His modest recent totals (Faulk took until Carolina’s last game to find the net, and only generated 31 points last season) make you wonder if he’s better suited for the secondary unit.

Now, sure, keeping Faulk as the power play QB gives Carolina the opportunity to try to pump up his trade value, if that’s the wider aim. And it’s not like Faulk is terrible he ranked sixth among defensemenin such a role; with 48 goals from 2014-15 through 2016-17.

When you look at per-minute stats from sites like Corsica Hockey, it’s enticing to ponder what Hamilton might be able to accomplish if a team truly unleashes his potential over great opportunities.

Maybe Brind’Amour will look at zero goals and three assists over nine games and believe that Hamilton isn’t delivering. And it’s fair to call this disappointing, particularly if you drafted Dougie high in your fantasy leagues.

The Hurricanes owe it to themselves to give Hamilton more of a chance, especially on the man advantage. The pay-off could be significant: combining this team’s stout even-strength work with, ideally, a power play that isn’t in the bottom-third of the league.

That’s even scarier than dealing with Hamilton’s one-timers.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Winners, losers of NHL Olympic return; Training camp battles

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Training camp battles, NHL playoff previews, and other return-to-play links

• Jackets Cannon looks at Columbus’ biggest strength: defense. In particular, Rachel Bules looks at how the pandemic pause will allow the Blue Jackets to have some serious training camp competition for spots. The Blue Jackets will need to be sharp, too, because the Maple Leafs’ firepower presents a real challenge for any defense corps. [Jackets Cannon]

• Speaking of the Maple Leafs — and training camp previews — Emily Sadler put together a thorough breakdown for Toronto. Can Frederik Andersen go the distance? Tyson Barrie ranks as a player to watch. Plus much more. [Sportsnet]

• George Richards takes a look at the Panthers’ “2.0” roster for training camp. If I had to single out a most interesting item, it’s that Anton Stralman has been involved. You may remember him airing some concerns about an NHL return. [Florida Hockey Now]

• What various analytics say about how the Wild’s lines match up with the Canucks. [Zone Coverage]

• It’s one thing for the Coyotes to say that they want to “get a little more juice” out of their offense. It’s another thing to actually lay out how it might work. Craig Morgan rolls out a detailed approach of how that might happen, including activating weakside defensemen. [AZ Coyotes Insider]

• The pandemic pause ranks as the biggest curveball Carter Hart‘s seen in the NHL so far. That said, it’s far from the only one. If he keeps passing these tests, it might all be to the benefit of Hart’s career. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

Other hockey links

• As a pending UFA on a team that could face a salary cap crunch, Christopher Tanev knows he might not be back with the Canucks. Tanev said he hopes that he can return, and in particular, he’d love to remain Quinn Hughes‘ defensive partner for a long time. [NHL.com]

• It’s easy to look at the NHL’s return to Olympic participation as a good thing for everyone involved. As Ryan Kennedy points out, it depends on the outlook for different countries’ national teams. Kennedy presents the winners and losers for the NHL return to the Olympics, with Germany landing in an interesting spot. [The Hockey News]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sabres drop lawsuit after assistant coach is granted a green card

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres dropped their lawsuit against the federal government after immigration officials reversed course by approving the team’s strength and conditioning coach’s petition for a green card.

“The matter has been resolved amicably between both parties,” with Ed Gannon receiving approval for an EB-1 visa, the Sabres announced in a text message Wednesday.

The Sabres sued U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in May by alleging officials wrongly denied the team’s visa petition for the British-born coach.

The announcement came a week after the Sabres’ lawyer notified the U.S. District Court in Buffalo that the team was voluntary dismissing the suit, with each side agreeing to bear their own costs and fees.

The Sabres accused immigration services of misstating facts and arbitrarily failing to follow its own rules in denying a green card to Gannon. They argued the decision potentially subjected the team “to substantial financial harm and disruption in developing (its) athletes.”

Gannon was hired by the Sabres in 2015 while the team was beefing up its player development staff. He previously spent 10 years as the lead strength and conditioning coach of a professional rugby club, the Leicester Tigers.

The Sabres filed the application for permanent residency on Gannon’s behalf in October. To be granted a green card, Gannon had to demonstrate that he was at the top of his field, and the Sabres argued that he proved his abilities under USCIS’ criteria.

The denial of Gannon’s petition came amid efforts by the Trump administration to limit legal immigration. A report last year by the Migration Policy Institute concluded that USCIS had become “increasingly active in immigration enforcement” and that the agency was intentionally slowing down adjudication of immigration benefits applications.

Healthy Ekman-Larsson ready to give Coyotes a playoff boost

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Oliver Ekman-Larsson had knee surgery last summer, fully expecting it to help him have a healthy 2019-20 season.

The Arizona Coyotes captain instead played with lingering pain, never able to fully recover.

The NHL’s shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic was a huge letdown, but it at least allowed Ekman-Larsson time to get back to full strength.

”These 2 1/2 months have been really good for me,” he said during a conference call this week. ”My knee is feeling 100% and I’ve been able to get stronger and faster.”

Ekman-Larsson had another solid season in 2018-19, finishing second on the team with 44 points with 14 goals. He was named to the NHL All-Star team for the fifth time and continued to be one of the NHL’s best offensive defensemen.

Ekman-Larsson opted to have offseason knee surgery to help with another lower-body injury and never was quite right this season, his 10th in the NHL.

The break allowed him time to heal, as did a trip back to his home in Sweden.

Unlike Arizona, Sweden did not go on lockdown once the pandemic hit and Ekman-Larsson took advantage, using the time to heal physically and mentally.

”With this virus going around, I haven’t felt so good mentally,” he said. ”Going back home and being around my family really helped that situation. I benefited from the physical part of being away. For the mental part, it was nice to get away from it.”

The Coyotes returned to the ice this week to prepare for the resumption of the season.

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced Monday a tentative deal on a return-to-play format. Should it be ratified, the league will resume play on Aug. 1 with 24 teams proceeding in an expanded playoff format at two hub cities in Canada.

The Coyotes, the West’s No. 11 seed, will open against Nashville in a best-of-five series in their first postseason appearance since reaching the 2012 Western Conference Finals.

”It just feels like it’s a different game,” said Ekman-Larsson, the lone remaining player from the 2012 team. ”Everybody feels faster and stronger. I don’t know how it’s even possible, but at the same time it’s another level.

”I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to be in the playoffs before. There’s so many good teams and you don’t really know when you are going to have the chance.”

The Coyotes have a chance to make a little noise once they get there.

Ekman-Larsson is healthy, as is Phil Kessel, who struggled with injuries after being traded from Pittsburgh before the season. Arizona also has one of the best goaltending tandems in Antti Raanta and Darcy Keumper, who are both healthy as well.

”For us to get a chance and show that we are good enough to be a playoff team, I think that’s huge for our group moving forward,” Ekman-Larsson said.

A healthy Ekman-Larsson gives them an opportunity to keep moving forward.

Chris Pronger leaves senior VP of hockey ops role with Panthers

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The Panthers announced on Wednesday that Chris Pronger is leaving his role as senior vice president of hockey operations and senior advisor. The Hockey Hall of Famer joined the organization in 2017 after spending three years in the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

“I want to personally thank the Viola family, Doug Cifu, Dale Tallon and all of the staff with the Florida Panthers,” said Pronger via a team statement. “I was able to grow as an executive and more importantly as a person in my three years with the hockey club. I wish the Panthers organization nothing but the best in the upcoming playoffs and years to come.”

Pronger is moving on to focus on the company he runs with his wife, Lauren. Well Inspired Travels “caters to elite athletes, C-Level executives and business owners.”

The Panthers are currently preparing for their Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Islanders, which is set to begin next month.

MORE:
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft lottery results

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.