With 21 games as a member of the Calgary Flames under his belt, Dougie Hamilton has earned mixed reviews from the team’s faithful.
While Hamilton struggled early in his new surroundings — recording only one point and a minus-11 rating in his first nine games — the organization and fans alike gave him a pass, understanding that an adjustment period was understandable for the 22-year-old star.
But a quarter of the season has now come and gone, and it’s time to take a closer look at what the Flames truly have in Hamilton. There’s no denying that long-term, the former Boston Bruin is going to be an immensely important piece of the Flames’ young core, and that he’ll almost certainly be worth every cent of his $34.5 million deal. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Hamilton has fallen short so far this season, and seems to simply be straying away from what made him exceptional in Boston.
Let’s start with his offensive game.
Part of Hamilton’s elite talent during his time with the Bruins was made clear through his growing skillset in his opponents’ zone. After steadily progressing in his first two professional seasons, Hamilton joined the top-tier of NHL blue-liners last season when he racked up 42 points in 72 games – the most of any Bruins defender.
Through 21 games this season, Hamilton has only five points, which projects to roughly 20 points over a full 82-game season — a far cry from his 2014-15 pace.
Shot quality seems to be a core issue for Hamilton so far this year. As his goals per game, assists per game, and points per game have all fallen (significantly, in the case of the latter two), Hamilton’s shots per game are notably lower as well – aligning more with his rookie season mark (which resulted in only 16 points) than that of his 42-point season.
The fact that Hamilton ranks second on the Flames in missed shots (with 22) certainly plays a central role in that decline. He’s still managed to put 42 shots on net and his percentage of shots getting through to the net is similar to the rate posted over the last few seasons (roughly 48%).
The biggest difference in Hamilton’s shooting has been consistency. Through his first 20 games last season, he had posted three or more shots on net in nearly half of Boston’s games. That number is down to just four of 20 games in 2015–16, and the spread has been much more sporadic. Prior to Calgary’s most recent string of contests, Hamilton had put more than two shots on net only once — when he had seven attempts against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 28th.
Zooming out and looking at both his own shooting and his ability to drive the offense by facilitating, Hamilton’s numbers still come up shorter than they have in the past. The young blueliner’s Corsi-For percentage helps make this clear, as his current mark sits at only 49.4%, despite Hamilton finishing above 55% for the entirety of his career previously.
Hamilton’s struggles with offense might be overlooked if his defensive game was on point — as the Flames certainly didn’t bring him in to singlehandedly drive their offense — but it seems he’s stumbled in this area as well.
Adjusting to Calgary’s defensive style from the Bruins’ has clearly been a tough transition for Hamilton so far, as the quick Flames blue line plays a much more mobile, active game. That should theoretically be no problem at all for Hamilton, who opened the season as one of the fastest players on the Calgary’s roster due to his exceptionally long stride.
But the time it’s taken for him to adjust has hurt his game in his new uniform, which in turn has caused head coach Bob Hartley to drop his new star’s ice-time as the season has progressed.
Hamilton played over 20 minutes a game in each of his first five contests in Calgary. He got a chance to play on the team’s top pairing while T.J. Brodie was shelved with an injury, but failed to impress in the role, resulting in a shift back to the second pairing once Brodie returned. For the next 14 games, he played well under 20 minutes per game (with his season low of 12:07 coming against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 31).
That lack of trust from his coaching staff has been plain to see over the past month of the season, most notably in Hartley’s hesitance to play Hamilton in key situations like the penalty kill. Hamilton currently ranks last in shorthanded time-on-ice among the team’s top six defenders, with an average of only 42 seconds. Even veteran Deryk Engelland has more average shorthanded ice-time than Hamilton — a prospect that would’ve seemed absurd when the season began.
Overall, Hamilton’s average ice-time has him aligned more with a third-pairing role, as his lacklustre play has forced Hartley to continue giving veteran Dennis Wideman a significant role this season.
Hamilton’s own penalty troubles haven’t helped matters, as he’s averaging .76 penalty minutes per game — a much higher mark than any of his previous seasons. In fact, the young rearguard ranks second among all Flames players in minor penalties taken per 60 minutes, and has drawn very few penalties from the opposition along the way.
His stint in Flames colours has been a tumultuous one so far. However, given his past performance, it’s clear the former first-round pick has undeniable talent to go along with his rare size (6’5″, 212 pounds). The question is not whether or not Hamilton will live up to expectations in Calgary – it would be absurd to think he won’t eventually round back into form and perform at the level expected of him. Rather, the question is whether or not this resurgence will come in time for Calgary to salvage their season.
The Flames currently sit second-last in their division with only eight wins through 21 games. The gap between Calgary and a playoff spot is large, and an extended slide could significantly hinder the club’s chances at returning to the postseason in April.
Hamilton and the Flames in general have been trending upwards over the past few games, but with Kris Russell out with an upper-body injury and Calgary still sitting dead last in the league in terms of the number of goals they’ve allowed so far, the Flames are going to need much more from their marquee offseason acquisition if they hope to truly right the ship this season.