Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY SPORTS
If you’re a believer that even the most objective, soulless attempts at building something special will come with familiar feeling narratives and storylines, you have to know what’s coming. There’s obviously no tangible guarantee, but even in regards to an organization of newfound silence, everything about the speculation connects the Leafs to Dougie Hamilton makes sense.
Where The Narrative Lies
For the past twenty-five years, it seems like the “big stride” that pushes a new era of the Maple Leafs from the start of a rebuild to a gradual climb up the standings has always been a blockbuster trade with the Calgary Flames. It worked for the team in the early 1990’s when they acquired Doug Gilmour, beginning a little over a decade where the team was, save for a brief hiccup, one of the most perennially respectable in the league.
It worked in 2009/10 when the Leafs shook the hockey world on a Sunday morning and acquired Dion Phaneuf. While that attempt didn’t find the same degree of success due to a lack of otherwise forward-thinking, it still made the Leafs more capable of winning games for half a decade and gave the team a poster boy. Now, with the team in need of another big-minute defenceman, there’s talk that they’re looking back to Alberta again.
Not just any big-minute defenceman though. They’re looking at Dougie Hamilton, a player who never suited up for the Leafs but was picked with a Leafs draft pick, sent to Boston in the Phil Kessel trade. Getting the “big three” of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander has masked the frustrations of missing out on Tyler Seguin, but to straight up bring in the missing defensive link would act as closure for a fanbase that is now accustomed to more responsible draft pick management.
But besides that, Hamilton can play hockey in a way that the team would likely value.
What They’d Be Getting
Let’s get something out of the way; Dougie Hamilton isn’t the prototypical “shutdown” defenceman that so many are looking for the Leafs to acquire. But that’s perfectly fine, given the playstyle of the team. In fact, it may even play to his benefit; given the top-end speed and creativity of this team, they’re more prone to needing somebody who can keep up with them while transitioning the puck to the offensive zone, is able to get back in the event that something goes wrong, and still has that physical presence that scares other teams because, you know, sandpaper and all that.
Qualitatively, Hamilton is all that. He’s pushing 6’6, he loves to throw the body, and he’s not scared to get in the way of traffic. He’s an incredibly impressive skater for his size, and he isn’t afraid to use his shot when needed. By the way, that shot is right-handed; the side where many feel the Leafs are struggling harder.
The numbers tell an equally bright story. Of defencemen who have played at least 2000 even-strength minutes since he made his NHL debut in 2012/13 (Hamilton has 4407), the 23-year-old ranks eighth in rate point production (1.10 points per hour) and 19th in team-relative shot attempt percentages. The latter is particularly impressive, given that he put up those performances with a steady defensive team in Boston and in a Calgary group with top tier players like Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie.
He also, by and large, has made players around him better. The above table represents every defenceman he has played with on Boston and Calgary for more than 20 minutes, and whether or not their metrics go up or down when they played without him on the ice with them.
By and large, players generated more offence when played with him, and while it was a coin toss to whether they’d give up more shots or not, the net result was, save for three players who had coincidentally started more of their shifts in the offensive zone, in favour of his teammates driving play better while playing with him; even names like Giordano, Brodie, and Zdeno Chara fall under this scope.
All things considered, he has the physical traits to fit into the dynamic of the run-and-gun-and-fun Leafs roster, and the underlying numbers to suggest he can add even more offence while at least being stable defensively.
Where There’s Smoke
Of course, a player being good means nothing if there isn’t any reason to suggest that a move will happen. But that isn’t the case. There’s actually a lot to work with here.
- On November 12th, Nick Kypreos mentioned on Hockey Night in Canada’s “Headlines” that Hamilton had been inquired about by a few teams. Calgary wasn’t particularly shopping him, but his name was on some shortlists. “I don’t suggest for one second that Calgary is shopping this guy, but there are some teams inquiring,” said the insider. “We know so many teams need help on the blue line. The two teams that I’m hearing that are kicking tires on Dougie Hamilton are Arizona and Pittsburgh.
- On November 21st, Leafs Assistant GM Kyle Dubas and a team scout attended Flames/Sabres in Buffalo, one of two teams to have multiple hockey operations types listed as attending (Montreal being the other).
- On November 23rd, TSN insider Darren Dreger suggested that the Leafs were on the market for a shutdown defenceman. “The Toronto Maple Leafs are trying to get some business done,” said Dreger on “Insider Trading”. “The Leafs, and this will come as no surprise to any Toronto Maple Leafs fan, they have Peter Holland on the trade market. He’s been in and out of the Leafs lineup. Lou Lamoriello is also looking for a shutdown defenceman. There’s a lot of teams on the market for a d-man, but anyone who’s watched the Maple Leafs play knows that they need some help there.”
- On November 26th, Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving attended Capitals/Leafs at the Air Canada Centre; the only executive of note from a non-playing team.
- On November 27th, Toronto Maple Leafs director of Pro Scouting Dave Morrison attended Flames/Flyers in Philadelphia.
- On November 28th, TSN insider Bob McKenzie mentioned that the Flames are listening to offers on Hamilton, and that the Leafs were likely involved in the conversation. “I’m sure they probably are,” said McKenzie on TSN 1050 (via Chris Nichols) “I mean, listen – they want to improve their defense. If Hamilton is available – and we don’t really know if he is or isn’t. Calgary is definitely listening on Dougie Hamilton. That’s not the same as wanting to trade him. Montreal was listening on P.K. Subban too, as they told us on multiple occasions. So I don’t have any evidence to suggest anything is imminent. Would the Leafs like to bolster their blueline? I’m sure they would. That’s the next logical step in the progression for this hockey team.”
So that’s where things are right now. The Leafs have scouted the Flames a few times, the Flames have scouted the Leafs at least once, Hamilton isn’t untouchable, and for the first time in a while, the Lou suppression machine has broken down a little and people are gossiping about what’s going on in Leafs land.
What Could Be Up For Grabs
I’m not going to get into what I think would be a fair package for Dougie Hamilton. I’m not good at playing HFBoards, HFBoards isn’t good at playing reality, and trades these days are so all over the place that it’s not worth trying to figure out “fair value”. Not to mention, again, we’re talking about a blockbuster with the Flames; historically, this has ended with the Leafs throwing a bunch of spare parts into Calgary’s hands.
I will note one thing, though, and that’s the fact that while Treliving is in charge in Cowtown, Brian Burke is still present as President of Hockey Operations. Burke is probably a part of the war room discussions, and he has a history of loyalty, and believing in his own models. So, let’s think of this a little differently. Here’s who the Leafs have in the organization that are tied to Brian Burke.
- Players brought in through free agency or trade by Burke: James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Jake Gardiner
- Players drafted by Burke: Morgan Rielly, Dominic Toninato, Connor Brown, Garret Sparks, Viktor Loov, Josh Leivo, Nazem Kadri.
If you really want to stretch it, the Ducks drafted Peter Holland just a few months after Burke left for Toronto; given the nature of his departure, it’s unlikely that they went through immediate philosophical changes and with that in mind, it’s possible that he was part of the group that initially looked at Holland for Anaheims 2009 draft list. That’s a huge reach though, especially seven years later. Similar reaches can be made for the 2013 draft class (of which Frederik Gauthier, Fabrice Herzog, Antoine Bibeau, and Andreas Johnson remain), but again, I wouldn’t stretch it too much.
Van Riemsdyk has been the logical conclusion response from a lot of people, but it remains to be seen if Toronto wants to trade their Toronto left winger. Maybe something is there with Bozak, given that every Calgary centre is on pace for 41 points or fewer. There are a ton of forward prospects that the Leafs can dangle in front of Treliving and company if a quantity for quality trade were to be made. I don’t have a direct answer, but there’s a lot to play with in the pool and a lot of names that might be familiar to a certain Flames executive.
Toronto will likely have to send back some salary in this trade, unless they plan on activating their LTIR magic: Hamilton is in the second year of a six-year contract worth $5.75 million per season.
The One Risk
While Toronto would love to have a legitimate, brand name defenceman to round out the present Top-3 of Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev, and Jake Gardiner, the upcoming expansion draft makes an acquisition a lot trickier.
While it’s becoming increasingly easier to risk exposure of Martin Marincin (who will almost definitely be their exposed 70/40 player) and Frank Corrado (who might never play again at this rate), leaving Connor Carrick out in the open is a recipe for loss. I waxed poetic about the 22-year-old before the season started, and he’s exceeded even those words of late, combining with Gardiner to the team’s most consistent, if sheltered, defensive pair from a statistical perspective. Combine that with the fact that Las Vegas GM George McPhee was the one to draft him in Washington, and that makes him prime to be plucked. Sure, you’re losing your #3 right defenceman if he gets taken after acquiring Hamilton, but that’s a heck of a #6 to have if you can keep him.
There are, of course, some ways around that. The Leafs could offer up a less vital prospect or a pick to Vegas in exchange for taking Marincin instead. Or, they could go with eight skaters instead of 7 forwards, three defencemen, and a goalie, and cap their forward protections at Kadri, JVR, Brown, and Leipsic (so long as they aren’t moved in the deal). Or, they could look to a find another, more exempt Carrick-like player; perhaps even using him in the trade package for Hamilton.
Whatever the case, while I don’t think Connor Carrick should stop the team from acquiring Dougie Hamilton, he’s someone who needs to be considered in the process.
This is a goldmine of a rumour. The Leafs’ management and coaching staff have made it clear with their quotes comparing the team to the 2009 Blackhawks, getting six points every five games, and general optimism about heading to the playoffs that this isn’t going to be another lost year. With that in mind, the forwards needing little help, and the goaltending starting to stabilize, the big move has to come on defence.
Now, there’s a big, narrative-attached name coming from a narrative-attached city with a big frame, a ton of skill, good numbers, and a rebuild-friendly age. It’s well known that both teams have their eyes on each other, there’s some prior history involved and two sides that could use a shakeup in certain areas.
Who knows if this ends in Dougie Hamilton wearing the colours of the team that originally owned his draft pick, or what it would cost to make it happen. Maybe the fact we’re talking about it so much has ruined the whole thing.
But boy, are there ever a lot of layers to the conversation, and it’s a fun one to think about.