Last offseason, Tom Fitzgerald made one of the biggest splashes in free agency by acquiring Dougie Hamilton, whose contract previously ended in Carolina. Unlike this past offseason, where the major free agent target wanted to go elsewhere (think he’s happy with going to Columbus right now instead?), Dougie happily signed here for 7 years at $9 million per year. It is an expensive contact, but one he clearly deserved, and if he played to the level he was at in Carolina before hitting the market, would have been one that was well worth it.
Last season, however, there were some issues that prevented him from really living up to that $9 million cap hit. The major reason was injury: he missed 20 games last year, playing in only 62. And while on the ice, he was not scoring at the clip that he had the previous two years with the Canes: he ended with 30 points in 62 games, whereas the year prior he had scored 42 points in 55 games, and before that he netted 40 points in 47 games. Of course, it was not a horrible year for him altogether. He still led all regular Devils defenders in Corsi, had an xGF% over 51%, and still put up 197 shots in those 62 games, posting well over 3 shots per game, a strong number. The New Jersey Devils needed points from their defenders, and while he only ended with 30, it wasn’t from lack of effort at getting the puck to net. So while it was not a poor year, he was a net positive to the team when playing, it really wasn’t a year worthy of the high price tag.
This year, however, he was been worth absolutely every penny. Check out some of his per 60 rate stats compared to all defenders in the league with at least 100 5v5 minutes (195 qualify), thanks to Natural Stat Trick:
He has been an absolute beast in terms of Corsi and expected Goals. He ranks 2nd among all D-men in helping his team produce Corsi events For when on the ice, behind only teammate Damon Severson. However, he ranks 10th in the NHL in Corsi events Against per 60, whereas Severson ranks 18th. And his expected Goals numbers, both for and against, are top of the line, similar to what he helps the team do at high danger. And this is all while having a PDO slightly in the red, so it isn’t like he is getting some crazy luck. Further, not listed there, he has an offensive zone faceoff percentage at 57.33%, which while it is high, still ranks him only 41st on that list of NHL defenders, and behind both Brendan Smith and Damon Severson on the team.
And in what matters most for an offensive defender, points, Dougie is on point this year. He has 11 points in 14 games, putting him on pace for 64 points over a full season. That would be a massive number, a career high for him by a long shot, and would surely give the Devils the points they need from the blue line to continue to compete and win games. And he is doing it both on the power play and at even strength. 5 of his 11 points are on the power play, with the one huge assist the other night against Ottawa in overtime to win the game, plus another goal and 3 assists to go with it, two of them primary. He is giving the Devils a true power play quarterback on the top unit, and they use him like it, as he leads the team in PP TOI.
But again, he isn’t sacrificing defense to get this done, as mentioned above, he still ranks first on the team in CA/60, and third in xGA/60. Teams are having trouble putting attempts on net when Dougie is on the ice, which is a great thing for the Devils. And it isn’t like he is being pulled along to these numbers. Dougie plays on a pairing with Jonas Siegenthaler. When the two are together, which has been for 193 minutes at 5 on 5, they have a CF% of 62.04%, an incredible number. However, when they are apart, Dougie’s CF% jumps to 67.90%, while Siegenthaler’s drops to 55.93%. He is the one carrying Jonas in terms of possession, not the other way around. That also translates to expected goals, as when they are together, their xGF% is at 66.28%, but when apart, Dougie is at 65.40% while Jonas is at 61.64%. All indicators that Dougie is not being carried by his partner to these strong numbers at all.
And, of course, perhaps the most important part of that $9 million is the ability to be clutch and win games at the right time, and nothing showcased that more than the shot which led to the goal on Thursday night to win it against Ottawa. A slick wrister through traffic, deflecting off of Nico’s stick, was exactly what that team needed right then, and he made it happen on a tight pass from Jack. Those are the plays that you pay someone like him for, and if he has enough of them this year, then there is no doubt that this team is going places.
In the end, it feels good when a major free agent contract pays off. So often, we see how those contracts become dead weight, and the teams that give them out quickly regret them. However, with Dougie, at least for now, that contract is paying dividends, and he is making this team much better through his play on the ice this season. Let’s hope that continues and the Devils keep winning games.