A lot has been written about Dougie Hamilton in recent days and the possibility of an NHL team giving Hamilton an offer sheet, perhaps one so rich that the Boston Bruins have no choice but to let the player go. The team most often posited as being at the other end of that offer sheet? The Edmonton Oilers.
The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa went into detail on the mechanics of an offer sheet and suggested the Oilers as a strong possibility last Saturday. On Tuesday, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Edmonton is believed to be discussing the possibility of an offer sheet for Hamilton internally, with the discussion supposedly being pushed by general manager Peter Chiarelli. Also on Tuesday, Comcast Sportsnet’s Joe Haggerty dug into the deal from a Boston perspective, and again flagged the Oilers as the obvious team at the other end of a trade/offer sheet.
At this point, it’s worth having a detailed conversation about what all this means, a conversation I’ve broken into three parts. First, there are some ramifications beyond the specific case here well worth discussing. Second, in this specific case it’s important to get a good idea of exactly what Hamilton’s value is. Finally, having valued Hamilton, we look at what he might cost to acquire and whether it makes sense for the Oilers to part with those assets.
What This Conversation Means
Chiarelli is aiming high. The biggest move the Boston Bruins made under Chiarelli’s watch came in his first year on the job. It was the acquisition of Zdeno Chara. Chara became the rock that the Bruins would lean on for the next half decade, the most important piece of a rebuild that took Boston from ground floor to Stanley Cup.
There are any number of ways to upgrade Edmonton’s defence corps, but Hamilton is more attractive than any of the free agents on the market and probably more attractive than anyone realistically available through trade. A cautious general manager might look to upgrade by-committee with multiple, smaller additions, but might also find that because of his caution his team never truly had a championship-calibre blue line. If the Oilers are in fact seriously considering an offer sheet, it’s a sign Chiarelli has no plans to settle.
Chiarelli isn’t afraid to be unconventional. High-end offer sheets don’t happen that often, which is a shame because it’s hard to acquire elite talent and the offer sheet is a legitimate weapon at every NHL team’s disposal.
They often go unused at least in part because a team which uses an offer sheet is running a big risk in at least three ways. First, there’s generally massive draft pick compensation. Second, there’s generally a major contractual overpay involved. Third, an executive that does it will inevitably be less popular at annual G.M. meetings, will be open to reprisals down the line and may even be looking at a barn fight somewhere down the road (as long as nobody tells Gary Bettman).
A high-risk play isn’t intrinsically good. Neither is an unconventional play. But being willing to take risks and flaunt convention when the situation is right is an essential element to being a great general manager. Slavishly adhering to conventional wisdom doesn’t win championships, because everybody knows conventional wisdom.
Scuttling the ships. A significant offer sheet, if made, would put massive pressure on the organization to improve immediately. When Garth Snow dealt away his team’s 2015 first round pick, the price of failure must have been part of his motivation to be so aggressive over the summer, making trades and adding free agents. If he’d failed, he would almost certainly have been fired. Instead, he had the best summer of any G.M. in some time and the Islanders took a massive leap forward as a team.
But these are all secondary to the major issues: How good of a defenceman is Dougie Hamilton? What is he actually worth?
Evaluating the Player
Draft day scouting report, via The Hockey News:
Ask an OHL’er who they’d rather go into a corner with, Dougie Hamilton or Ryan Murphy, and they’ll say they much prefer their chances with [Murphy]. But the physical Hamilton can also put up numbers and does so with a giant, enviable frame. That makes him a very intriguing player for NHL teams.
“I would say he has the potential to be a real high-end, two-way defenceman at the next level,” one scout said. “He has the offensive ability and skill set to contribute and the size, composure and toughness to be a shutdown guy.”
[Hamilton] had a breakout season for the IceDogs and doesn’t rely just on brute strength and punishing hits – he also thinks the game at a high level. Character is also a strong suit and scouts wouldn’t be surprised to see him wearing a letter on his NHL jersey someday.
The one item I’d add to that scouting report is that Hamilton is also a bright guy off the ice. It’s obvious from speaking to him; it’s made even more obvious by an impressive list of scholastic awards picked up during his time in junior.
He’s a 6’5”, 212-pound right-shooting defenceman who put up 42 points at the tender age of 21. His enhanced stats (via War-on-Ice) look awfully good, too; in three years with the Bruins he’s played the second-toughest competition on the team, dramatically outperformed the club average by the shot metrics (keep in mind, this was a good Boston team, so even being average would be impressive) and didn’t get a zone-start push. He ranks No. 8 among full-time NHL defencemen in points/hour at even-strength (min. 2,000 minutes played) over those three seasons, just ahead of Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo and a hair behind P.K. Subban and Kris Letang. His power play numbers are also excellent.
So, dream come true, right? Haggerty offers a caveat:
But he’s also still young and prone to some pretty rough turnovers, and Chara has done much of the heavy lifting in the defensive zone during their time together. The ice directly in front of the net was an easy place to attain for opponents when Chara was injured, and Hamilton was acting as the last line of defense against the NHL’s best players. He isn’t quite ready to be a No. 1 defenseman in the NHL, and the thinking at this address is that he shouldn’t be paid like one quite yet either.
It’s a reasonable argument; not every young defenceman gets to play with Zdeno Chara. So how do we get a handle on Hamilton’s performance sans the Slovakian powerhouse?
One way to do it might be to compare him to Chara’s partners over the last three years. Chara has played a bit with everyone, and the full list is here, but he’s had two primary helpers: Hamilton and Johnny Boychuk, who was such a massive hit in New York this year. Here are the numbers for the two tandems:
- Chara and Hamilton, 2012-15: 56.4 Corsi percentage, 51.0 percent zone-start (team Corsi: 53.1%)
- Chara and Boychuk,2012-15: 57.2 Corsi percentage, 47.0 percent zone-start (team Corsi: 53.1%)
At First glance, Hamilton’s not quite up to Boychuk’s standards. But one needs to remember that we’re starting at Hamilton’s rookie year and capturing a lot of learning curve in these numbers. What happens if we look just at the 10 hours or so they played together at evens this past season?
- Chara and Hamilton, 2014-15: 57.1 Corsi percentage, 48.5 percent zone-start (team Corsi: 51.7%)
That last number shows Hamilton coming within a hair of Boychuk’s numbers, but on a much weaker team and at the age of 21 doing it while still a half-decade or so short of his prime. Boychuk, of course, excelled playing 21:40 per night in New York and anchoring his own pairing sans Chara and there’s every reason to believe that right now Hamilton is at least a comparable and may perhaps even be a superior player.
Haggerty wonders if Hamilton is really the heir apparent to Zdeno Chara or just a gifted young top-four defenceman. I’d say Chara’s shoes are awfully big ones to fill, but if I’m putting an NHL team together I have no problem at all penciling Hamilton in as my No. 1 defenceman for the next decade or so based on his work so far.
Cost of Acquisition
There are two obvious approaches to acquiring Dougie Hamilton for the Edmonton Oilers. The first is an offer sheet so rich that the Bruins can’t match; the second is a trade backed by the threat of an offer sheet so rich that the Bruins can’t match.
There are three potential ranges of offer sheet the Oilers might plausibly make; via Elliotte Friedman those ranges look like this:
- $9.13 million or higher – Four first-round draft picks
- $7.31 million to $9.13 million – Two first, a second and third-round picks
- $5.48 million to $7.31 million – First, second and third-round picks
As we considered in the Bruins’ cap hell piece, Boston has $63.7 million committed (per NHLNumbers.com) prior to signing RFA’s Hamilton, Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly. The team is allowed to go over the salary cap in the summer, so hypothetically the Bruins have the ability to match any Hamilton offer sheet provided they are willing to make cuts elsewhere.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Boston would match any offer up to $7.31 million. The price is high, but not so exorbitant as to be crushing, and the draft pick return simply isn’t enough of a carrot to make losing Hamilton worthwhile.
Moving to the next tier is where things get interesting. At $8.0 million a Hamilton contract would put the Bruins over the cap, forcing massive cuts elsewhere. They’d be looking at two first-round picks, plus the second and third round selections coming back. Given that those picks would be coming from the Oilers, the potential would exist for Boston to reap the kind of windfall that it landed when it dealt Phil Kessel to Toronto for the picks that turned out to be Hamilton and Tyler Seguin. That’s an intriguing combination of carrot and stick, though it still leaves a Bruins team that isn’t far from contending with a massive hole in its roster in the here-and-now.
In the Oilers shoes, I’d look at doing it. The team has all its picks and Hamilton is exactly the right player for Edmonton’s team situation. But I’d only look at doing it if a trade made under the threat of an offer sheet failed first.
The appeals to both clubs are obvious. For Edmonton, making a trade likely means less of an overpay on Hamilton’s contract, and allows the club to substitute some present value for those future draft picks and avoid the odium of making the offer. For Boston, it offers the chance to land some here-and-now help rather than just bringing aboard futures.
Most of what the Oilers have would be worth offering for Hamilton; the real question is what players Edmonton wouldn’t be willing to trade, and it’s an awfully short list. Connor McDavid will not be dealt, obviously. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall are too valuable to move one-for-one, but the right Hamilton+ deal might be fair value, though it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl may or may not belong on this list; in a lot of ways each has a comparable ceiling but both are less certain. Outside of those five, I don’t know that there’s a player in the system not worth dealing.
That list of potential trade bait includes Oscar Klefbom, as painful as that loss would be. Klefbom and Hamilton are the same age; Hamilton’s further along. Offering Boston a package centered on Klefbom would give the Bruins a good young defenceman for a considerably lower salary than Hamilton. Naturally, Klefbom would not be an opening offer; the Oilers could first wander through the list which includes a pile of draft picks, any of the other prospects in the organization, skaters like Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz. But if it comes down to Klefbom, I don’t know that Edmonton could say no.
In my view (and from an Edmonton perspective) trade talks should absolutely be investigated, and if they fail an offer sheet in the $8.0 million range seems a reasonable (if risky) decision with a decent chance of landing the player.
But as this is What Would You Do Wednesday, my view is hardly the last word on the subject. What does the comments section make of the possibility, and what price is it willing to pay?
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