This week’s revelation that the Carolina Hurricanes have given Dougie Hamilton permission to talk to other NHL teams has added a new layer of intrigue to what was already shaping up to be a memorable off-season.
Engaging with other teams allows Hamilton and his agent, J.P. Barry, to get a head start on free agency as a means to browse around for the best offer. If Carolina isn't willing to pay Hamilton enough to entice hime to stay then it opens the door for a rare sign-and-trade. That would also ensure the pending unrestricted free agent could ink an eight-year deal as opposed to a maximum seven-year deal if he were to hit the open market.
Hamilton has developed into a top-end offensive defenceman since being drafted ninth overall in 2011. His 215 points since 2016-17 ranks 13th among blueliners. He also ranks fifth in even-strength points among defencemen and third in shots on goal over that same stretch.
A darling of the analytics community, Hamilton could – and some would argue should – be rewarded with a relatively significant raise from his current $5.75-million annual salary cap hit after garnering Norris Trophy votes in each of the past five seasons.
Hamilton is a coveted commodity and although it’s entirely possible he ends up re-signing with Carolina, here are seven teams that could show interest in a player who celebrated his 28th birthday on Thursday.
It’s no secret defence is the Jets’ top priority this summer and head coach Paul Maurice was open about that being the specific area that needs immediate attention.
“We’re looking for that improvement on our back end, but we all know that,” Maurice said. “This isn’t sneaking up on us and we know that our goaltender (2020 Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck) can stop a lot of pucks. We’ve got to give him a chance to be the difference in the game. The forward group is maturing into a really good forward group. Our back end has to catch up to our goaltending, but not everybody has all the pieces all the time, so we’re in that process of building that.”
Even before the Hurricanes gave Hamilton permission to talk to other teams, his name was attached to the Jets regarding free-agency speculation.
"I wonder if Dougie Hamilton will be a guy that the Jets look at in free agency or if they'll be looking at a potential blockbuster trade on the backend,” Sportsnet’s Ken Wiebe said after Winnipeg was swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Having a defender like Hamilton that can get pucks through traffic effectively would do more to help Winnipeg’s offence than adding another talented forward.
Stan Bowman is expected to make a push for Columbus Blue Jackets stalwart Seth Jones and now you can say the same about Hamilton. A Thursday report from The Athletic indicates the Blackhawks are indeed intent on exploring what it would take to acquire and sign Hamilton. Cap space is an issue for Chicago at the moment and Hamilton would end up being the team’s third highest-paid player behind Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Calvin De Haan and Connor Murphy will be UFAs after next season. Their cap hits combined would be in the ballpark of what Hamilton is expected to make.
The Flyers are going to be in on Jones, too, so in theory they’d be interested in Hamilton. Elliotte Friedman wrote in his latest 31 Thoughts column that he’s hearing “the Flyers’ defensive targets seem to be elsewhere,” however when betting odds for Hamilton’s next team were released the Flyers topped the list.
The July 21 expansion draft occurs one week prior to free agency opening, which means the NHL’s newest team could have a say in where Hamilton ends up. We saw how the Vegas Golden Knights took advantage of the expansion draft rules to benefit on the trade market. In addition to accumulating extra picks, Vegas was able to add the likes of Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch and Reilly Smith. The circumstances are different with Carolina and Hamilton since he’s a pending UFA but Kraken GM Ron Francis has a storied history with the Hurricanes franchise. Would that give him an edge in facilitating a deal with his former team to land a top-pairing D-man before the team has even stepped on the ice for its first practice?
The Blue Shirts are a team on the rise and the recent hiring of head coach Gerard Gallant suggests ownership and management want to really start going for it. The Rangers have Jacob Trouba locked up at $8 million per year through 2025-26 and the team has a handful of notable RFAs that need new deals in the next year or two, but overall the team’s cap situation is manageable. Adding Hamilton to a youthful blue line that also boasts Norris Trophy finalist Adam Fox on the right side would send a huge message to the East.
If you’re Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald, with an abundance of cap space, why not take a shot at luring Hamilton to the Garden State? P.K. Subban has one year and $9 million remaining on his deal and Hamilton would be an upgrade on both Subban and Damon Severson on the right side. If you’re Hamilton, you can look at the crop of young, high-end forwards like Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha among others and feel encouraged that you could contribute to the Devils becoming contenders in the next few seasons. If Hamilton is interested in joining a team that is ready to win next season, though, then the Devils will need to look elsewhere to improve the back end.
The Oilers need to improve their blue line and Hamilton would be an upgrade, albeit a much more expensive one, to fellow pending UFA Tyson Barrie who just led all defencemen in scoring. Adam Larsson, another right-shot defender is set to hit the open market so with those two plus Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Alex Chiasson, Dmitry Kulikov and Tyler Ennis potentially all off the books, cap space wouldn’t be an issue for GM Ken Holland.
Hamilton leading a right side that also has Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear while playing alongside either Darnell Nurse or a returning Oscar Klefbom would make many Oilers fans happy.