Let’s start with a quick question.
Who is your mid-season pick for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman?
Washington’s John Carlson is no doubt at the top of many lists due to the historically good offensive season he is having.
Montreal’s Shea Weber will get a lot recognition as he shows he can still be a high-level player, and there will probably a push to try to get him a Norris Trophy before he retires (he has not yet won it). Victor Hedman, Alex Pietrangelo, and Roman Josi are all big names having their usual big years.
But if we are talking about the absolute best defenseman in the NHL this season, and the player that should have the best claim on being the Norris Trophy frontrunner at the halfway point of the season, it almost has to be Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
He has been excelling in every area of the game and playing at a level that almost no other player in the league has matched across the board.
First, let’s look at some numbers.
We will break this down into three different categories: Raw offensive numbers, possession numbers, and defensive metrics. League rank among defenseman with a minimum of 500 minutes played will be in parenthesis. Those rankings are out of 144 players.
The raw offensive numbers
Goals: 13 (2nd)
Total points: 37 (4th)
Even-strength points: 24 (4th)
Points per game: 0.88 (5th)
Shots on goal: 157 (1st)
Just looking at his production, he is among the league’s elite in his ability to provide offense. Not quite as good as Carlson offensively, but in the top-five in every major offensive category for defensemen.
For as good as he is when it comes to providing goals and points, it is his ability to drive possession and control the pace of games where he starts to set himself apart from everyone else.
The possession numbers (5-on-5 play)
Shot attempt share: 58.3 percent (1st)
Expected goal differential: 59.1 percent (1st)
Scoring chance share: 59.8 percent (1st)
High-danger scoring chance share: 58.8 percent (4th)
Shots on goal for per 60 minutes: 37.3 (4th)
Scoring chances for per 60 minutes: 31.7 (4th)
High-danger scoring chances for per 60 minutes: 13.1 (4th)
Expected goals for per 60 minutes: 2.80 (3rd)
Basically, when Hamilton is on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Hurricanes are dominating the puck. They have been a top possession team in the league for a couple of years now, but their dominance goes to an entirely different level of elite when Hamilton is on the ice. There is not one other defenseman in the league that ranks in the top-four in every single one of these categories.
What really drives home Hamilton’s value is that his performance here is not just about offense.
The Hurricanes shut teams down when he is on the ice, too.
The defensive numbers (5-on-5 play)
Shots on goal against per 60 minutes: 26.1 (3rd)
Shot attempts against per 60 minutes: 47.2 (2nd)
Scoring chances against per 60 minutes: 21.3 (4th)
Expected goals against per 60 minutes: 1.93 (14th)
Goals against per 60 minutes: 1.81 (8th)
They simply do not give up shots on goal or scoring chances (or goals) with Hamilton on the ice. These are shutdown defensive numbers combined with elite offensive production.
Oh, and his penalty kill numbers? Mostly outstanding as well. The only negative number is the actual goals against, but when you look at how good the Hurricanes are at suppressing shots and attempts with Hamilton on the ice in PK situations, some blame has to go to the goalies for that number.
The shorthanded numbers
Shots on goal against: 41.2 (6th)
Shot attempts against: 81.3 (16th)
Expected goals against: 5.45 (18th)
Goals against: 9.4 (104th)
One of the most underrated players in the NHL
Probably the most shocking thing about Hamilton is the fact he is a 26-year-old, right-handed defenseman that has consistently been among the best in the league at his position, and he not only slides under the radar for his play, but has also somehow already been traded by two different teams (Boston and Calgary) in his career.
This is the type of player teams should be looking to build their defense around, and the type of player that traditionally does not get traded under any circumstances.
Especially when — as is the case with Hamilton — their contract is probably a steal under the salary cap.
He is everything you look for in a No. 1 defenseman. He can skate, he can move the puck, he can jump into the play and join the rush, he scores, he drives possession, and he does all of that without giving up or sacrificing anything in the defensive end.
That is sometimes a delicate line to balance for players (and especially defensemen), and right now no one is doing it better than Hamilton.
(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)