Shortly after the Canes lost in the playoffs and the team’s off-season started, I did a deep dive on the Dougie Hamilton contract situation.
Now six months later and nearly halfway through a shortened 2020-21 season, today’s Daily Cup of Joe revisits the possibility and terms for Dougie Hamilton to re-sign with the Carolina Hurricanes for the 2021-22 season.
As a quick baseline, my off-season article suggested that the Hurricanes had enough depth with the addition of Brady Skjei that they could get by without re-signing Hamilton but ideally would try to do so if they could get a modest discount to push his salary to or below $7.5 million per year for 4-6 years.
What has changed?
After arguably playing at his ceiling in 2019-20 with solid defense and challenging for the NHL lead in goals and scoring for a defenseman, Hamilton has taken a reasonable step down thus far in the 2020-21 season. His 17 points in 24 games is still an impressive 58-point pace over 82 games, but he has scored only one goal and has not contributed as much at even strength. Maybe more significant is the fact that Hamilton has been up and down with many more downs than in 2019-20. He is still a capable top 4 defenseman who can score. And he still easily fits into the Hurricanes top 4. But he no longer looks like Superman offensively, and sort of like when he arrived, he again is a defenseman whose defensive play can be inconsistent.
What do the Canes have in Dougie Hamilton going forward?
Hamilton is big offensive defenseman who can skate and is still in his prime at 27 years old. As such, he rates high in terms of raw physical ability and likelihood of being able to sustain his current level of play for enough years to justify a contract with reasonable term. Even his step down offensively slots him on a first power play unit and capable of boosting scoring. But with his intermittent struggles in 2020-21 comes the reminder that Hamilton does not have the every-game steadiness of a Brett Pesce. So he is easily a top 4 defenseman going forward but will likely continue to hit stretches where he struggles a bit defensively and looks more like an offensive #5 defenseman.
Where does Dougie Hamilton slot? What are the Canes other options?
Initially the Hurricanes trade for Brady Skjei boosted the Hurricanes blue line depth and maybe made a possible departure by Hamilton more bearable. But I am not sure the 2020-21 season has helped that case. Despite being a defenseman with skating ability and willingness to jump into play in the offensive zone, Skjei has a mere three points, all of them assists, in 2020-21. And like Hamilton, he has had some ups and downs defensively. Jake Gardiner, who struggled mightily early on as a Hurricane in 2019-20, seems to have righted the ship and is playing much better hockey, but he has primarily done that in a bottom pairing role that gets shielded a bit from tougher competition. Might Gardiner be ready now to step into the top 4 role he figured to fill when the Canes signed him? Sure. But is he probably riskier as an every-game top 4 defenseman than Hamilton? Yes, by a wide margin in my opinion, because he does is a notch lower in terms of skating ability and agility. Haydn Fleury presents another option to fill out the top 4, but I just do not see him as being more than a capable #5. So while the Hurricanes do have options to backfill a hole left by a Hamilton departure, I also think the team is much better with him in the lineup even accepting some inconsistency defensively.
What is the deal?
During the off-season, I thought the Hurricanes might push up to $7.5 million per year over four to six years. That would still have been a slight discount from the possible $8-10 million range coming off what an NHL-leading season offensively for defenseman had his season not been cut short by injury. That range also matches up with the $9 million per season that Alex Pietrangelo signed for this past off-season. On the open market, Hamilton likely still nets something not too much less than Pietrangelo, but with a lesser 2020-21 campaign, Hamilton’s max deal maybe decreased slightly. Pointing to the fact that Slavin makes $5.3 million and Pesce $4.1 million, will the Hurricanes be willing to offer at a discount and live with uncertain results? I now think the Hurricanes could offer 4-5 years at $6-7 million per year and probably be in the neighborhood of being competitive. The risk here is that the Pietrangelo situation happens to the Hurricanes. The Blues acquired Justin Faulk and re-signed him for a bunch of money and then a year later had to part ways with Pietrangelo when he did not fit in the budget. Had the Blues had the chance to work backwards, would they rather have had Faulk at $6.5 million. Yes, there is a difference in price but minus Faulk, the Blues could more easily have made Pietrangelo’s new salary work. For the Hurricanes, would you rather have Skjei at $5.25 million per year or Hamilton at say $7.5 million per year? Hamilton brings so much more offensively, and interestingly the two players are somewhat similarly defensively in that they have size, skating ability and all of the physical tools to be a good top 4 defensive defenseman, but sometimes lack consistency.
As long as the term is reasonable, I would rather stretch a little bit to get Hamilton re-signed and then consider trading Skjei or Gardiner to make the salary cap math work if necessary. After just acquiring Skjei last March for a first-round pick, that might be considered cutting losses depending on what he can be traded for, but I think it could be the best path forward.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Given a more modest scoring pace and some ups and downs defensively, are you still as high on Hamilton as you were this time last year?
2) What would be your maximum offer to Hamilton in yearly salary and term?
3) If keeping Hamilton requires cutting cost, where would you try to save dollars?