This summer’s free agent class has a couple of significant names, and Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton is going to be at the top of that list.
He plays a premium position, is one of the best players in the league at that position, and he is still at an age (soon to be 28) where he should maintain a lot of that value deep into his next contract. That value includes an elite offensive presence, a better defensive impact than he sometimes gets credit for, and an outstanding puck possession impact analytically. He should be a highly sought after player if Carolina can not re-sign him. That is where things started to get interesting on Monday.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman is reporting that the Hurricanes have given Hamilton permission to speak to other teams around the league, creating the possibility of a sign-and-trade deal. That would allow another team to get Hamilton on the eight-year max-contract instead of the seven-year max he could sign as an unrestricted free agent.
That does not necessarily mean that Hamilton’s time in Carolina is finished. As Friedman pointed out, it could give Hamilton an opportunity to see what his value is and if the Hurricanes could still give him the best offer. If they do, well, it only makes sense to re-sign.
With all of that in mind. Let’s explore the possibilities and what teams would be the best fit for Hamilton.
Let’s make this easy and stay right where he is.
The Hurricanes have a pretty great thing going with him and Jaccob Slavin as a pairing, and it would help keep together what is one of the NHL’s best defensive units. Carolina is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender next season and the return of the Hamilton-Slavin duo only increases their chances.
How good is that duo? Of the 45 defense pairings that have logged at least 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together over the past three seasons, the Hamilton and Slavin are second in shot attempt share, second in expected goal share, second in scoring chance share, third in high-danger scoring chance share, and 10th in goal differential. (All Data via Natural Stat Trick.) In other words: They are as good as it gets league wide across the board.
If you can keep it together, why break it up?
New York Rangers
Hey, let’s get wild here right off the bat.
There is an obvious demand for the Rangers to win and win now. They are clearly in the market for a big move. And the salary cap situation is not impossible. They also are loaded with young assets and anything else they need to complete a sign-and-trade.
So why not? That would be a heck of a defense with Hamilton and Adam Fox leading the group for the foreseeable future.
It has been a while since the Flyers made a big offseason splash, so they are due.
They also have a massive need for a top-pairing defender and a lot of pressure on them to make up for a disappointing season. Shayne Gostisbehere has not developed into that role, and while they pay (and play) Ivan Provorov like he is that sort of player, he really is not.
The salary cap might make it difficult, but when has the salary cap ever stopped an aggressive team from adding the player it wants? They always find a way. The Flyers could find a way. And they should do whatever they could to make it happen.
Speaking of teams under pressure to win with a massive hole on defense, say hello to the Edmonton Oilers.
Adam Larsson, Tyson Barrie, and Dmitry Kulikov are all unrestricted free agents on the blue line this offseason, and if there is even a semi-realistic chance of them getting a player like Hamilton they should be willing to drive all three to the airport and thank them for their service. A player like Hamilton on that roster with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl would be very intriguing.
At some point the Oilers are going to have to stop wasting their two MVP forwards and build something meaningful around them. That means finding more impact players at key positions. You do not get many opportunities to add a proven player like that. This opportunity is staring them right in the face. They should not let it pass them by.
Winnipeg’s weakness is very clear: Defense.
They have a good collection of forwards that can be impact players in any game.
They have a goalie that can steal them games.
What they are missing is a high-end, top-pairing defenseman. They also might have the salary cap space to pull it off.
The Blackhawks say they are rebuilding, but I do not get the sense this is a traditional rebuild where they tear things down to the foundation and build from the ground up. This seems like one of those, “yeah, we’re rebuilding, but if we can still try to win we’re going to do that as well” kind of rebuilds. This is a team that still has an elite scorer (Patrick Kane) and some veteran players that they are not going to completely nuke the whole thing.
Duncan Keith is 37 years old, and while they have some very intriguing young defensemen, Hamilton is a sure thing to take over the top spot. You know what you are getting, and it is really good.
New Jersey Devils
They are absolutely swimming in salary cap space, have two young cornerstone forwards (Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes), and an outstanding goalie (Mackenzie Blackwood). They need more help on the blue line. They tried to make a big splash a couple of years ago with P.K. Subban but it has not worked out as planned. They should not pass on the opportunity to try again if they can get Hamilton.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Seth Jones seems like he already has one foot out the door and Zach Werenski is a restricted free agent after next season. Given Columbus’ recent track record of retaining players in that situation, he is not a sure thing to be a long-term fit there, either. So they are going to very quickly have a need for a top-pairing defender. Hamilton is the best option out there.