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About Last Season: Dougie Hamilton Performance Review and Grade

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The Hurricanes had an elite talent in Dougie Hamilton, who proved that he was one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL.

Dougie Hamilton blocks Tampa Bay forward Alex Killorn from reaching the puck in the Carolina zone, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in PNC Arena. The Canes lost 3-0 in regulation.
Kaydee Gawlik

Dougie Hamilton 2020-21 Season By The Numbers

  • Age: 28
  • NHL Seasons: 9
  • Scoring: 10 goals, 32 assists, 42 points in 55 games
  • Average TOI: 22:43
  • Awards: NHL Second All-Star Team

Well folks, it’s time to talk about Dougie Hamilton’s last season with the Carolina Hurricanes. It’s hard to write about Dougie and not bring up the fact that he was the best offensive defenseman that this team has ever had and a legitimate top-10 defender in the entire league. It’s also hard to write about Dougie and not bring up the fact that the team let him go in free agency, lowballing yet another free agent and making the team noticeably weaker in the process. This is a recap of this past season, however, so I’ll refrain from mentioning it too much.

Hamilton’s 2019-20 season was cut short due to a broken leg, and while he was able to recover in time for the bubble, it was clear that he wasn’t able to play at the same level at the time. Hamilton was fully recovered at the start of the 2020-21 campaign, meaning that the Hurricanes were getting their top defender back in time for their quest for the Stanley Cup.

Hamilton was already on the top defensive pair as well as the top power play unit and had cemented his role as the team’s top offensive defenseman prior to the 2020-21 season. Hamilton proved to be exactly that during the season, finishing fourth on the team in points and second on the team in assists. Hamilton was stellar on the Hurricanes’ power play, which was scoring at the highest rate in the league at many points in the season. Whether it was Hamilton’s passing, his goal scoring, or his shots always finding Vincent Trocheck’s stick, Hamilton was doing it all in the offensive zone.

Being paired up with Jaccob Slavin can make almost any defenseman look good, but there was something special about the Slavin-Hamilton pairing. Both players were able to play to their strengths and feed off of one another, creating a top two-way pairing. Hamilton carried the pairing offensively and held his own defensively, resulting in a CF% of 58.7. When Hamilton was on the ice, the Hurricanes held the majority of the shot share and offensive opportunities. He finished seventh in scoring across all of the league’s defenseman while maintaining solid two-way play.

Hamilton’s shot has always been a threat, and while he may not be able to shoot at the 8.2% rate that he was shooting at in the season prior, he still managed to score ten goals while shooting a little below his career shooting percentage. Part of that isn’t his fault, though. Hamilton’s shots always seemed to find Vincent Trocheck’s stick for a deflection, drastically boosting his assist totals while lowering his goal totals. A ton of Hamilton’s shots were going in the back of the net, it’s just that most of them were hitting Trocheck first. They don’t ask how, just how many, right? And let’s not forget Hamilton’s passing, which has always been an underrated part of his skill set.

A simply gorgeous pass. Hamilton was hailed as a great goal scorer when he came here, so I feel that sometimes it’s easy for us to forget how good of a passer he is. This season, it felt like you could pull from any five-game sample and Hamilton would have at least two or three assists.

Seriously, the guy was a good passer.

All eyes are on Hamilton when he’s on the ice. The way that he mans the blue line in the offensive zone is a sight to behold. You simply don’t know what he’s going to do. While past defensemen such as Justin Faulk tended to rely on their slap shot in order to create offense from the blue line, Hamilton was different. Sure, he has a cannon of a shot and pinpoint accuracy to boot, but there’s more to his game than just his shot.

He makes passes and is constantly moving in the offensive zone, which in turn opens up more offensive opportunities and changes the angles for goalies and defenders. Hamilton occasionally had two players covering him, which then opened up a forward to pass to, which usually resulted in a goal. That’s how good Hamilton is. It’s outstanding getting to watch Hamilton play in the offensive zone because of how good he is at, well, everything.

On most nights, Hamilton was up against the opponent’s toughest matchups. He was facing other teams’ top pairings and top-six forwards and still managed to put together an impressive season. Hamilton was on pace for a 60+ point season in a normal 82-game season, which would have surpassed Justin Faulk’s 49-point 2014-15 season as the highest-scoring season for a defenseman since the team moved to Raleigh. Hamilton’s play cemented him as the Hurricanes’ top defenseman even with Slavin being the steady two-way presence that he has always been. Hamilton looked flat-out unstoppable in the offensive zone, at one point going on a franchise record 14-game point streak.

Hamilton’s performance in the playoffs was a little lackluster given the fact that Tampa held him pointless in four out of the five games in the second round. He did well against Nashville, however, scoring to tie the game late in game six. That goal led to Slavin’s series-clinching overtime winner. Hamilton’s playoff performance doesn’t discount the fact that he was one of the best Hurricanes players this past season. The entire team seemed outworked and outmatched by the Lightning, so it’s hard to put blame on Hamilton for going pointless in four games. Still, even when he wasn’t producing, Hamilton was making things happen.

The two critiques I could give on Hamilton’s play this past season are for his defensive lapses and his discipline. Hamilton has what I would call “Joni Pitkanen Syndrome” where he doesn’t make a ton of mistakes, but when he does, they almost always wind up in the back of the net.

Hamilton’s skating is average and it can get him into trouble occasionally on a breakout or a play along the boards. He’ll rush to make a pass and end up turning the puck over, which will usually result in a goal. Every defenseman has their lapses and missed assignments, but Hamilton’s stick out like a sore thumb because of the fact that his mistakes usually turn into goals against.

The other issue that I had with Hamilton this past season was his discipline, which ties into his defensive lapses. If Hamilton gets beat, there’s a good chance that he’s going to take a penalty to try and make up for the lost coverage. Your top defenseman can’t help your team when he’s sitting in the box. Hamilton finished second on the team with 35 penalty minutes this past season, behind Andrei Svechnikov’s 44 PIMs.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Hamilton signed a seven-year contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $9 million with the New Jersey Devils in free agency. It might be a slight overpayment, but that’s the going rate for top pairing defensemen this offseason. That contract might not be the best in years six and seven, but if I’m a team that is truly in “win now” mode, I’m keeping my number one offensive defenseman. I’m not replacing him on the cheap with a player that has carried controversy with him wherever he’s gone. Hamilton is the better defender and would have had a greater impact on the Hurricanes’ success while being worth every penny along the way. Dougie Hamilton made this team better whenever he was on the ice and it’s going to be tough to replace not only his production but also his two-way play.

The Hurricanes were at their best when Hamilton was at his best over the course of the 2020-21 season, there’s no denying that. He was as dynamic as he had been in his previous two seasons with the Hurricanes, and while his play may not have been able to match the level he reached during the 2019-20 campaign, it was still a phenomenal season for the Hurricanes blueliner. It will be tough to replace Hamilton’s offensive production without sacrificing defense in the process, so only time will tell if the Hurricanes have made the right call. As of right now, I’m firmly in the camp that believes they have made a mistake.

Poll

How would you grade Dougie Hamilton’s 2020-21 season?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    A - Outstanding Performance
    (65 votes)
  • 55%
    B - Above Average Performance
    (142 votes)
  • 16%
    C - Average Performance
    (41 votes)
  • 3%
    D - Below Average Performance
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    F - Significantly Below Average Performance
    (0 votes)
256 votes total Vote Now