One of the biggest stories to come out of the NHL this week was that the Carolina Hurricanes have granted star defenseman and pending unrestricted free agent Dougie Hamilton permission to speak to other teams about a new contract. A veteran of 607 regular season games with the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames and the Hurricanes, the 28-year-old has been a big reason why Carolina has been so successful over the last few seasons, and is undoubtedly one of the top free agents available this offseason. Needless to say: the team that ultimately signs him will receive a big boost to their defensive group.
The Detroit Red Wings are set to have the most cap space to play with entering this offseason with around $48 million. Even after inking their own players to new deals, they should still have plenty of space available to them. Furthermore, despite their top prospect being a defenseman, they are in need of a true top-tier defenseman to help round out their blue line. So, to sum it all up: the Red Wings have money to throw around, and a need for a player of Hamilton’s caliber. Seems like a pretty good fit, right?
Red Wings Still Rebuilding
Let’s face it: despite the clear progress that the Red Wings made this season, they are still a few years off from contending for the playoffs, let alone a Stanley Cup. That’s alright, though! With the sixth pick in the 2021 Draft, they are poised to add another quality prospect to an already impressive prospect pool. Another year or two of lottery picks would go a long way towards fortifying the long-term health of this team (especially if they can win one of those lotteries). It’s the fact of the matter, and general manager Steve Yzerman has done well so far to make the best of the situation.
Hamilton has played in 54 playoff games over the course of his nine-year career, including during the 2018-19 season where the Hurricanes made a run to the Eastern Conference Final. When he’s not checking out the local museums, he’s playing quality hockey for quality teams, and I can’t imagine his appetite for the playoffs has been fulfilled. It would likely take a huge overpayment from the Red Wings to convince him to sign with a team like Detroit – the kind of overpayment that former GM Ken Holland is notorious for among Red Wings fans. Long-term deals like the one Hamilton is likely to sign often don’t age well, especially if there’s a huge dollar amount/cap hit attached to it.
There’s also the matter of the improvements Hamilton would bring to the Red Wings. For his career, he has a 55.5 Corsi% at five-on-five, a truly impressive rate that shines above every defenseman Detroit currently employs. His ability to control the puck, as well as his ability to play top-notch defense, would be a welcome addition to Detroit’s blue line as well as their offense.
But would any of this be enough to vault the Red Wings from rebuilders to contenders? Absolutely not. In fact, this is the kind of addition that would improve Detroit enough to climb out of the basement, but not enough to enter the playoff discussion. That purgatory between rebuilding and contending is arguably the worst spot to be in in all of sports; you’re no longer drafting high, and you’re not seeing the playoff success that makes it worth that sacrifice.
It makes sense to see teams like the Philadelphia Flyers and even the Toronto Maple Leafs linked to Hamilton as he could easily become the missing piece that pulls their respective defensive groups together and pushes them into the Stanley Cup conversation. Those are the types of teams I expect him to be very interested in. For the Red Wings, he wouldn’t be the missing piece, he would just be a piece of a puzzle that is still being put together.
Depth on the Right Side
The aforementioned top prospect in Detroit’s system is defenseman Moritz Seider, a right-handed defenseman that many project to hold down the right side of the team’s middle defensive pairing. Above him on the right side is Filip Hronek, who has played the role of the Red Wings’ number one defenseman for a couple seasons now, and below Seider is Troy Stecher, though his status is up in the air due to the upcoming Seattle Kraken expansion draft. Directly below Stecher is 22-year-old Gustav Lindstrom, who could get a look as a full-time NHLer next season.
While it’s not out of the question for a defenseman to play on their off-side (Jon Merrill, a left-handed defenseman, did it multiple times for the Red Wings this season) the usual preference is for each defensive pairing to feature a left-handed guy on the left and a right-handed guy on the right. Adding Hamilton would force somebody off to their off-side, and it would spark lineup questions regarding where the team should slot Hronek and Seider in at. That being said – to play Devil’s advocate for a second – a right side that features Hamilton on the first pair, Hronek on the second and Seider on the third would be absolutely nuts, but would cast a huge spotlight on how thin Detroit is on the left side.
During his year-end press conference, Yzerman reiterated his team’s commitment to bringing in good players, but he also addressed a question about whether or not he aimed to make a big splash in free agency or the trade market.
I don’t think it makes a lot of sense for us to be trading draft picks and prospects for players that may not be here with us in four or five years.
– Steve Yzerman
My read on the Hurricanes’ approach in allowing Hamilton to speak with other teams is that they want to be able to orchestrate a deal with the team he picks in order to avoid losing him for nothing. It wasn’t that long ago that the New York Islanders held on to hope that John Tavares would re-sign with them before he left them high and dry by signing with the Maple Leafs once free agency opened up. While Hamilton is certainly within his rights to do the exact same thing, this move by the Hurricanes has to be seen as a favor to the player, and I can’t imagine he’ll return that favor by keeping them in the dark.
Even if Yzerman can make an offer that Hamilton likes, it is then up to the Red Wings’ GM to then work out a trade to acquire him from the Hurricanes. While I don’t think Carolina would acquire full value on a Hamilton trade, they should still be able to acquire some quality pieces for their trouble. While this is a player that could very well be with Detroit in four or five years – chances are that he’ll sign a seven or eight-year deal – it is highly unlikely that he will be as effective as he is today. The Red Wings cannot afford to be paying a 35-year-old Hamilton upwards of $10 million a season, and that’s not even accounting for the pieces Detroit would have to give up to acquire him.
Great Player, Wrong Time
If it’s not clear by now, Hamilton is a true top-line defenseman that would instantly make the Red Wings a better team than they are today. If he were left-handed, I think Detroit would be a lot more involved with these talks than I think they are. Unfortunately, this is a case of a great player becoming available at the wrong time.
Hamilton will more than likely sign with a contender – possibly even the same Hurricanes he has spent the last three years with – and he’ll be paid handsomely to do so. While the Red Wings can offer him all the money in the world to come to Detroit, that is ultimately not in the team’s best interest. They are better suited to pursue mid-tier defensemen this offseason like they did last year with Stecher and Merrill; the time to go after the best free agents is coming, but it simply isn’t now.
To quote a song from the hit musical Hamilton: I am willing to wait for it.
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