While the Carolina Hurricanes haven’t begun contract extension negotiations with star defenseman Dougie Hamilton, GM Don Waddell indicates that it’s a priority for the organization.
“We’re getting close to talking about it,” Waddell said on Thursday, according to NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti. “Dougie’s not back here, yet. He’s still up in Toronto. He’s coming back here I think at the end of the week. … He is a UFA at the end of the year, so we’d like to get that one done sooner than later. That one, you would have doubts if you play out the season, so it makes sense to try to get something done before the start of the season.”
Hamilton’s reputation could grow with a strong contract year
It’s interesting that Waddell mentions that it might be better to hash out a contract extension with Hamilton, 27, before the 2020-21 season begins.
While there are pandemic-related reasons why both sides might want some cost certainty, being proactive could be wise. Frankly, the Hurricanes might be better off signing Hamilton now — while at least some in the hockey world are still unsure about his talent — rather than risking a value-boosting season.
After all, Hamilton had a decent shot at at least being a Norris Trophy finalist before getting injured in 2019-20. (All things considered, finishing seventh is impressive.)
When it comes to certain high-scoring defensemen, mainstream voters sometimes need time to realize their value. Recall, for instance, how Shea Theodore only recently went from an analytics darling to a more widely praised blueliner.
In the case of Hamilton, some gravitate toward silly narratives. There were rumblings about being afraid of contact with Alex Ovechkin during a series the Hurricanes ultimately won during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Following being traded from the Flames, there were goofy murmurs about Hamilton opting for museums over bro time.
For some, Hamilton’s brilliance has only been recently realized. Interestingly, the underlying numbers indicate that Hamilton’s really just been this good for a long time, and the Flames maybe shouldn’t have traded him. Consider his strong 2019-20 by Evolving Hockey’s RAPM charts, versus an even stronger outlook stretching back to his Flames’ days.
It feels like some mainstream hockey people finally clued in to Dougie Hamilton being great in 2019-20 (if they aren't still fighting it). Wild that, by certain measures, including @EvolvingHockey's RAPM, he was even better before: pic.twitter.com/8gJQJK179h
— James O'Brien 📎 (@cyclelikesedins) November 13, 2020
So, yeah … another season could mean a year where Hamilton wins a Norris Trophy. You can imagine how that would drive Hamilton’s asking price through the roof.
Could Hamilton get the term he likely craves?
Beyond discussing the pros of being proactive with a Dougie Hamilton extension, Waddell also commented on the flat salary cap. In doing so, Waddell nudged toward the possibility of keeping Hamilton’s term from being too lengthy.
“You’ve got a flat cap for the next two years, we know that,” Waddell said. “We also know that the market’s changed. I’m not saying we’re not going to do a long-term deal, but the long-term deals, if you look at free agency, you’ve only got a few guys that got more than three years in the whole market. … So I think the market has changed and it should change because of the situation we’re all in.”
On one hand, it’s true that the market is challenging. On the other hand, defensemen seemed to be the only free agents who really commanded term.
Alex Pietrangelo received the sort of mega-deal Taylor Hall likely wanted. While it’s easier to compute Pietrangelo and Krug getting serious term, it’s telling that teams handed term even to lesser defensemen. If Christopher Tanev, Dylan DeMelo, Joel Edmundson, and others receive significant term, why wouldn’t Hamilton?
Still, it’s smart that the Hurricanes at least want to nudge the conversation to something more manageable. Just about everyone pictures Hamilton getting a big raise from his bargain $5.75 million cap hit, but Carolina could limit risks by giving him bigger money and smaller term.
Being that Hamilton’s already been traded twice in his productive career, he’ll likely seek security in whatever his next contract looks like.
Hamilton contract extension just one of Hurricanes’ key upcoming decisions
Again, it’s smart that a somewhat cost-conscious franchise like the Hurricanes is at least trying to nudge the conversation away from giving Hamilton term.
One way or another, the franchise faces some big forks in the road.
Along with Hamilton entering a contract year, Andrei Svechnikov‘s entry-level deal will expire after 2020-21. As mentioned before, Svechnikov is a rising star whose stature is only likely to grow. Read up here for an in-depth argument on the Hurricanes extending Svechnikov as soon as possible.
(For what it’s worth, Waddell also told Gulitti that he hopes to extend Svechnikov. Eventually.)
Even beyond figuring out what’s next for two stars, the Hurricanes perpetual goalie questions also demand answers. Both James Reimer (32, $3.4M) and Petr Mrazek (28, $3.125M) enter contract years for 2020-21.
Will the Hurricanes make their first truly major goalie splurge since being burned by the Scott Darling contract? Maybe after next season. (Frankly, it was a tad bit disappointing that Carolina didn’t dip into the robust goalie market this go around. Oh well.)
Not every looming deadline warrants spooky music, mind you. Chance are, the Hurricanes will either upgrade in net, or at least not spend more than $6.5M on a “meh” duo. And similarly “meh” money will come off the books, what with Ryan Dzingel ($3.375M) and the ghost of Alexander Semin’s buyout ($2.233M) set to expire after 2020-21.
Can the Hurricanes strike the right notes with Hamilton, Svechnikov, goalies, and other decisions? Finding the right answers could make the difference between continuing this run of close-but-no-cigar versus finally breaking through.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.