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New Jersey Devils Free Agency Game Plan: The Big Fish — Dougie Hamilton

Concluding our free agency game plan series (possibly) by looking at pros and cons of the New Jersey Devils pursuing the biggest name in this free agent class: Dougie Hamilton.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Five Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Okay everybody, we’ve been both alluding to and explicitly stating that this piece was coming. There’s one name on the back end in free agency (and maybe the biggest realistically available name in all of free agency) that merits his own piece in this free agency series. That player is Dougie Hamilton; with defense being the biggest need for the Devils (we haven’t beaten that point to death or anything), we have here a player who could quickly help to rectify a lot of the team’s woes on the blue line.

Per Evolving-Hockey and their contract projections for this offseason’s free agents, they expect Hamilton to receive a seven year deal at roughly $8.5 million for each of those seasons. So should the Devils be looking to invest just shy of $60 million in the premier UFA defenceman? Would he even be willing to come to the Devils? We hope to answer both of those questions, at least in our opinions, today.

Arguments for Dougie Hamilton

Hamilton has shuffled around the league quite a bit since breaking in during the truncated 2012-13 season after the Bruins selected him 9th overall in 2011. Since being drafted, Hamilton has gone on to become one of the strongest offensive/two-way defencemen in the NHL while spending time in Boston, Calgary and Carolina. He posted some of the strongest point per game averages of his career the past two seasons with Carolina, which seems indicative of the fact that he still has quite a bit in the tank.

Depending upon which player evaluation model you use, Dougie Hamilton is either a clear top pair defender for any NHL team, or THE top defender for some NHL teams;. No matter how you choose to look at it, it’s evident that he brings skills that will improve any team he joins this offseason.

The Devils need players desperately who can help on the back end of the ice, and more offense from the blue line would never be declined. As you can see from both charts, Dougie would help to improve the Devils all three zones of the ice. While he does play on the right side, where the Devils have a bit more depth, talent of his caliber isn’t available everyday. Additionally, the cost to acquire him is only money and cap space, of which the Devils currently have enough of both. Offering him a deal seems like a no-brainer.

Arguments Against Dougie Hamilton

And yet there are some drawbacks that could have some Devils fans and pundits wanting to not pursue Hamilton. One such argument would be that he doesn’t match up with the team’s timeline. The best players on this team are in their teens/young 20s; Dougie just turned 28 and will be leaving his prime as they are entering it. Defenders historically peak around 24 years old — a fact that has been verified again, and again, and again. And you don’t have to take the word of analytics folks to agree here. If you take the top 10 Norris vote-getters from this season and weight them by their vote share, the average age of the best defenders in the league this year was 23.98, with only Kris Letang being over 30.

Here’s a scenario for you: Dougie Hamilton’s prime continues another 2 seasons. In that time, his powerplay performance and minute-munching 5v5 excellence inflates the stats of our currently-unsigned core (Hughes, Bratt, Smith, etc.). All of those players now cost $1-2M more than they would have if he were never signed. Now you have a bloated payroll in your long-term core to pair with your likely-declining $8M defender — both of which severely limit your ability to put a Stanley Cup-caliber roster around the most important pieces.

In addition to possibly inflating future payroll, Hamilton might need an overpay to join the Devils. If there are multiple teams bidding for his services, it could drive his price up beyond the projected $8.5 million per year. In addition, Carolina can offer him an 8th year currently; if the Devils have hopes of bringing Dougie to Jersey, they might need to up the amount per year to offset the extra year that the Hurricanes could theoretically give him should they desire bringing him back. This, of course, leads to our next topic.

Would Hamilton Even Want to Come to New Jersey?

While the Devils have had some success in past seasons with signing free agents, the majority of their current crop was either drafted or traded for according to CapFriendly. Due to their current rebuilding state, the team hasn’t exactly been a marquee destination for free agents over the past few seasons. While that may seem like a grim assessment/projection, there’s actually some factors working in the Devils’ favor.

Firstly, as we’ve pointed out in previous pieces, the Devils have cap space in an NHL world where the cap will more than likely not increase. The team’s RFAs need to be re-signed, but the contracts being renewed probably won’t require much of the Devils’ $36 million in available cap space. Not many teams that need defenders, after taking care of their own RFAs, will have the money that the Devils will to sign Hamilton.

The prospect of being the centerpiece on the back end while playing with a young up and coming core could also be attractive to Hamilton. That’s not to say that other teams can’t offer the same in that regard, but combining that with the money that the Devils could offer might be enough to entice Dougie to sign on the dotted line.

So What Should the Devils (and Hamilton) Do?

Now for the tricky part of today’s article; what should each party do. To start, the Devils should absolutely offer Hamilton a contract. The team can’t continue to rebuild in perpetuity; at some point the organization needs to sign free agents to augment the drafted talent the team possesses. High draft picks are great, but they can’t address every gap on an NHL roster.

Hamilton will aid the Devils offensively, defensively, in transition, basically any time he’s on the ice. He would make an excellent partner for any lefty that New Jersey puts on the ice. If the Devils are able to land him, it would also free up other players, such as Damon Severson and Ty Smith, to have easier matchups. Having players no longer playing over their head in the lineup would lead to better overall play and less collapses in late game situations.

For Hamilton, however, the choice isn’t as clear; as Devils fans, we obviously want to say yes he should sign here. There could be factors outside of the team’s control; someone could offer him some ludicrous deal that he might not be able to pass up. While that might affect that team’s success in future years, we’ve seen GMs in the league do crazier things, and no one would fault a player like Dougie for signing a big money deal to secure his own future.

Speaking of his future, Hamilton might be looking to sign with a team whose contending window will be open either now, or sooner than the Devils. If that’s the case, even an overpay might not be enough to bring him here. He’s a good fit for what the team currently needs, but again, it does not mean he’ll sign here even if a contract is offered.

If it were up to us, and Hamilton were open to coming to New Jersey, our choice is clear: sign the man.

Your Take

Do you believe the Devils should offer Dougie Hamilton a contract this offseason? Do you believe that he would improve the Devils both in the short and long term? Would Hamilton come here in your opinion? Leave any and all comments below.

On one final note, thank you all for reading this series this summer. We have had a lot of fun collaborating and bringing this free agency game plan to you all, and we thank each and every one of you who read and/or commented on these pieces. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more offseason coverage!