In a season full of ridiculous rumours, the ones surrounding Dougie Hamilton might have been the silliest.
In a league that covets big, young, mobile, puck-moving defencemen, the mere notion that the Flames would seriously consider moving Hamilton was pure folly.
Yet, once the rumour mill gets going in today’s world, such chatter is as tough to stop as, well, his Calgary Flames of late.
Winners of 10 in a row, the Flames have had heroic efforts from many during their second-half surge.
However, of the handful of steadying influences in the room all season long, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Hamilton stands above them all on the back end.
For the fourth straight season the 23-year-old defenceman has established a career high in points, scoring 10 goals and adding 34 assists to sit eighth among NHL defencemen.
His three assists on Saturday marked the fifth time this season he’s had a three-point night, a feat only two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson has equalled.
What made it even more significant was that he entered the evening as a game-time decision. He’d left the previous outing in the second period with a scary laceration to the back of his ankle that made his medically-aided effort two nights later a painful one that required freezing.
“That was a real big game for him because he was in some discomfort,” said coach Glen Gulutzan, who shut Hamilton down early in the 3-0 win over Winnipeg.
“He’s been real solid all year. He’s having a great year statistically as you can see, but he’s really taken a step for us in other areas too.”
Like in the locker-room, where the quiet, cerebral Toronto native is so well liked – and needed – his playing partner, Mark Giordano, jokingly offered to massage his injured ankle to ensure he’s able to stay in the lineup.
“I’ll take it,” chuckled Hamilton, whose promotion to the top pairing this year says plenty about his continued progress.
“This year has been a lot of fun. It obviously wasn’t the best start for me or the team, but I got to play with Gio and kind of changed everything. Playing against the other teams’ top lines is a lot different.”
Drafted ninth overall by Boston in 2011, Hamilton has scored at least 10 goals and 40 points each of the last three seasons.
Where he’s made his biggest strides is defensively.
“He was a little more loose defensively but now he’s just more complete,” said recently-acquired blueliner Matt Bartkowski who played two years with Hamilton in Beantown. “And his offence has gotten better. You can’t beat that.
He’s matured a lot and really rounded out his game. He’s quietly still getting better. He’s still pretty young and defence pretty much comes with age in this league.”
Acquired by the Flames in 2015 as part of a deal still considered the biggest coup that summer, Hamilton’s start as a Flame was much like that of Brian Elliott – a catastrophe.
Fans couldn’t figure out what all the hype was about and quickly suggested he was a bust as his plus-minus sunk into the double digits his first month.
Once acclimatized, he’s been on a steady developmental incline to the point he’s earned kudos as one of the best young defencemen in the game.
Shutting down the opposition’s top line every night helps prove that.
“I don’t try to think about it too much – I just try to keep doing the things I’ve been doing,” said Hamilton when asked to assess his play this season. “It’s hard to tell – I can’t really compare myself to last year. I feel like I’m playing good but that I can be better and that’s what excites me. I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Signed for four more years (at $5.75 million annually), the continued improvement will be played out in Calgary despite future rumours sure to come.
“I didn’t care at all – it’s just part of the game,” said Hamilton of the rumours that seem to plague him annually. “I’ve been used to it the last couple years. Just noise.”
Something he and his Flames have been making plenty of these days.
For all the right reasons.