A day after Dougie Hamilton’s injury, let’s revisit a few truths.
Yes, the Carolina Hurricanes are significantly worse today than they were 24 hours ago. Yes, losing Hamilton makes it incumbent upon Don Waddell to try to find a player who, while he may not replace Hamilton – because who can? – can at least take his minutes and be responsible while doing so. Yes, it’s cool that Jaccob Slavin is headed to the All-Star game, although obviously everyone involved prefers it not be in this circumstance.
No, it’s not time to drive the convertible off the cliff. Far from it.
Losing Hamilton is a devastating loss. There’s no getting around the fact that a team becomes significantly worse when a defenseman who has been as proficient at both ends of the ice as Hamilton has been this season and has played upwards of 20 minutes a night every game suddenly exits the lineup. But while the Hurricanes were already a little bit shaky defensively even before Hamilton was hurt, this injury doesn’t mean that they will automatically be giving up seven goals a game to whatever team they face on a given night.
It’s an opportunity, and maybe an imperative, that the Hurricanes will need more from a long line of players, and at the head of that line is Jake Gardiner. It’s been… a struggle for him this season, and if the Hurricanes are going to weather Hamilton’s injury, they need to find something out of Gardiner that he has yet to show in Carolina uniform.
But beyond that, it makes it more important for Waddell to find a player that Rod Brind’Amour can trust in a top role. If that isn’t Gardiner, and it presumably isn’t Trevor van Riemsdyk or Haydn Fleury either, then he needs to look long and hard at making a deal.
The thing is, most of this was known already, even before Hamilton was hurt. Waddell has been scouring the market looking for defensemen for at least a month, and while the injury to Hamilton might accelerate the process, it’s not like it just popped up out of nowhere yesterday. Any defenseman they obtain is not going to replace Hamilton, because there are few players in the league who could reasonably replace a Dougie Hamilton. (And those that are probably aren’t available on the trade market at this time of year anyway.)
Which brings me to the next point: the Hurricanes’ season isn’t dead in the water, Rod Brind’Amour is not going to be fired, and while there are certainly things that can be improved, the Hurricanes’ track record this season has shown that those things are within the capability of the current roster. It’s hard to believe that it was only a month ago that the Hurricanes swept their road trip to Western Canada, although at this point it seems like it may have been two years ago. That was a team that played lockdown defense, could virtually scored well, and got solid goaltending just about every night. The players have it in them, and it’s certainly conceivable that they could do it again, which leads me to think that the current swoon is nothing more than a blip on the radar.
That being said, they do need more out of players like Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Nino Niederreiter. When all of them can break out of their slumps, and the Hurricanes can hunker down at their own end of the ice, they will be fine.
But the overreaction has been massively overdone, albeit in quite entertaining in a bizarro world fashion, over the past two days. There’s no reason to go overboard and declare the season over because the Hurricanes lost Hamilton. True, he’s as irreplaceable a player as the Hurricanes employ, but there are still 20 other players in the locker room who have shown that they are capable of their own bits of magic this season. (It’s probably worth reminding everyone that comment spam has been a big problem the past couple days, and if you notice that you have been commenting in a thread multiple times overreacting by essentially saying the same thing repeatedly, you might want to re-read the community guidelines and make sure you don’t do that.)
With Hamilton out of the lineup, the Hurricanes face a tall challenge. Philadelphia and Columbus are right on their heels in the playoff race, and the Hurricanes can’t afford to get left in the dust in a division that is top to bottom the most difficult in the league. If we are a month out from the injury and the Hurricanes haven’t done anything to address it and they’ve been passed by one or two teams, then it’s time to panic. But now is not that time.
It’s always worth remembering that Waddell‘s job is rather difficult at this point, because the worst possible time to make a trade is when everyone knows that you need to make one. But he’s pulled a rabbit out of a hat before – today is the one-year anniversary of the Niederreiter trade, just to give an example - and he is certainly capable of doing it again.
Things got more difficult for the Hurricanes last night, but it isn’t a lost cause, and they are certainly still capable of hanging in there, solidifying their performances, and making a playoff run that could include Hamilton returning. Let’s hope that happens, but more importantly, let’s not write it off as an impossibility before it does.