When Calgary Flames President Brian Burke made his cross-country tour this week to quash those swirling Dougie Hamilton trade rumours, it reminded the hockey world of Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin’s copious denials in and around the 2016 draft that P.K. Subban would ever be dealt away.
As if we needed a reminder that every GM — and every player — has their price.
Sometimes the more denials you hear, the more you expect a deal. Other times, a guy like Burke is simply trying to set the record straight and there is no deal imminent. Burke’s sudden media tour did seem a tad contrived, we’ll admit, for a guy who seldom does media anymore in his role as President of Hockey Operations in Calgary.
“We move heaven and earth to beat out about 12 other teams to get this player two years ago,” Burke said on the Andrew Walker Show on Sportsnet 590. “We expend three very high draft picks (a first- and two second-round picks), clearly covet the player. He’s 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, a right shot, great kid. He skates like a deer, he can move the puck…
“We want to put him on a plane? There are a lot of them in the National Hockey League? It’s just absurd.”
OK — we’ll take Burkie at his word.
But just in case, we reached out to five long-time pro scouts and asked for their objective evaluation of Hamilton — senior scouts whose reports their GMs rely heavily on when acquiring players. (All spoke on the condition of anonymity.) Here’s a sampling of how they rate Hamilton:
“He’s a Top 4 defenceman. He’s just not as good as people thought he would be,” said an Eastern Conference scout. “He’s good, but he doesn’t do anything great. Passes well, but he’s not a great puck mover. He defends OK, but he’s not real physical. Pretty good at everything. Not great at any one thing.”
“He’s big, but he’s never played real big,” said another scout. “He’s paid as a No. 2-3 (defenceman), and Calgary is not getting that value.”
As with all players today, Hamilton’s salary — an annual average value of $5.75 for four more seasons after this one — is a major factor in evaluating his worth. Scouts all notice that Hamilton has second-pairing ice time (19:19 per game) and a top pairing salary. That speaks to Calgary’s evaluation of what the player can handle.
(The five other NHL defencemen who play between 19:09 and 19:30 are Josh Georges, Anthony DeAngelo, Dennis Seidenberg, Brian Dumoulin and Jordie Benn. Their average AAV: $1.62 million.)
Things can change — Hamilton is still just 23 — and everyone loves his shot, though scouts wonder what the factors are that have head coach Glen Gulutzan using Hamilton primarily on his second power play unit, not the first.
“For $5.8 million you want a first pairing D-man,” one scout said. “He’s not playing 22-24 minutes against every player in every situation. Shorthanded, last minutes of periods, etc.”
“He’s got good skills — skating, shooting, passing — and good size. But he plays soft. No grit or pushback to his game,” evaluated another scout. “I believe Burkie is all huff and puff, and they’d move him as quick as they could.”
Another common theme here is one that nobody can deny: Wasn’t Burke the one who gave the NHL the word “truculent?”
All agree that Hamilton’s size and lack of truculence would be more likely to drive Burke crazy. Not crazy enough to ship Hamilton out, perhaps, but as one scout said, “Truculence is his word, and Hamilton isn’t that guy. He’s calm. Not vicious, mean or physical. [At 6-foot-6], you’d better be on your ass. He doesn’t put anyone on their ass.”
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Good as Gustav
With Alex Edler and Chris Tanev currently injured, Canucks fans might want to skip this next item. The steal of the 2014-15 trading season just might have been when the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks traded a pair of little-known defencemen named Adam Clendening and Gustav Forsling.
Clendening would later move from Vancouver to Pittsburgh to Edmonton, and now has seven games in with the Rangers this season. He’s a fringe guy. Forsling, meanwhile, came over from Sweden and could become a big part of Chicago’s blue line for years to come.
“Our scouts liked him in his draft year [Canucks drafted him 126th overall in 2014], and they tracked him a bit,” said Chicago’s assistant GM Norm MacIver. “He had a really good World Junior, and we had a lot of people there. He hit a lot of people’s radar there.”
Forsling, 20, came over this past fall and really stood out at the rookie tournament in Traverse City. Contractually he can’t go to the minors — Forsling would return to his club team, Linkopings, instead — so the Blackhawks took a long look at him at their main camp, still unsure if he was NHL-ready.
“I think (his maturation) has happened, probably, quicker than we thought,” MacIver said. “We were thinking we’d give him a taste of hockey in North America this year, and see how he did.”
Forsling has been sitting out a few games along the way, watching Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell from the press box. He’s got a big shot for a small-ish guy (5-foot-11, 186 pounds), but he looks like just another in a long line of good Swedish defencemen.
Said MacIver, “He could run a power play one day, absolutely.”
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CMcD > RNH
According to the website CapFriendly.com, the biggest bargain in hockey today is Connor McDavid, who currently leads the league in scoring with 11-23-34. With his base salary of $925,000 (not including bonuses), McDavid’s cost per point is $27,206.
At the other end of that scale is teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (3-8-11) at just over $545,000 per point. RNH is having a dreadful season, with only one even strength goal through 25 games.
“And I’m shooting it more than ever,” he said the other night, after he opened the game by hitting a post off a two-on-one versus Toronto.
He’s right. Nugent-Hopkins is averaging 2.8 shots on net per game this season, even though his career average coming into this season was 2.2. Still, three goals and 11 points through 25 games?
Even his own coach, Todd McLellan said this week, “He has to pick his socks up and give us better performances.”
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-30- for Cam Cole
One of the great Western hockey voices will move from your tablet or doorstep to the B.C. fairways soon, when national newspaper columnist Cam Cole retires from the Vancouver Sun on Dec. 16.
Cole, who once served as arbitrator in a dispute between myself and Brian Burke — awarding a yet-to-be paid steak dinner to Burke — got his start 41 years ago at the Edmonton Journal, where I broke in 30 years ago. He chronicled the Oilers’ and Eskimos’ glory days, but his finest work was on the golf beat — most notably at The Masters. (Or when it came time to roast ex-Oilers owner Peter Pocklington over some slick bit of dirty business.)
I was Cole’s No. 2 or inside columnist both at the Edmonton Journal and the National Post, and can say with some authority that there is not a better wordsmith nor teammate in the writing business in Canada. I learned everything I could from Cole, from how to report, to how to write it, to where to go after the game to blow off some steam. Though sadly, there are some things you just can’t teach.
Thanks for the many fine reads, Cameron. And if Burkie calls this morning, can you handle him for me?