The Carolina Hurricanes hold a meet-and-greet with their fans after every home game, win or lose. Nobody on the roster is exempt from the obligation, with a rotation of three players per game fulfilling the duties of chatting up a select group of supporters while posing for pictures and signing autographs. One night after a particularly tough loss early in the season, a team
official approached one of the Hurricanes players and reminded him of his meet-and-greet duties that night. Well, let’s just say the player had a number of choice words for the beleaguered employee, including the none-too-subtle suggestion that he go forth
Dougie Hamilton, who had been lingering in the dressing room after the game, was witness to the exchange. As his teammate stormed off, Hamilton approached the team official and calmly told him he would fulfill his teammate’s duties that night, that perhaps the teammate didn’t understand the importance of being accessible in a non-traditional hockey market and had allowed the sting of the loss to cause him to lose perspective.
Dougie Hamilton is 6-foot-6 and 229 pounds. Even though he’s just 26, he’s a veteran on a young Canes team that’s finding its way, and he’s earned the right to make his presence felt. He could have just as easily grabbed his teammate by the scruff of the neck and gotten all up in his grill, loudly insisting that he go out and fulfill his obligation. Or he could have just done nothing. Instead, without complaint or fanfare, he put his post-game plans on hold and spent the next 60 minutes mingling with fans.
That doesn’t really square with what we’ve been led to believe about Hamilton, does it? At best a quirky guy who doesn’t fit the typical Broski persona of a hockey player, at worst a cancer in the dressing room, Hamilton has already been traded twice and had some not-great innuendo follow him with each deal.
It was suggested by one commentator that instead of going for dinner with his teammates in Calgary, he would venture off to a museum. (Not true. He actually never goes to museums.) Before being dealt in Boston, he declined to go on a post-season vacation with the rest of his teammates to Las Vegas.
So were perceptions wrong about him or has Hamilton changed? Probably a little bit of both, but one member of the Hurricanes’ inner circle described Hamilton as the most misunderstood person he has ever met.
Hamilton could, if he wanted, dispel a lot of these misconceptions about himself. In fact, he’s going a long way toward doing that right now in Carolina, where he emerged as the team’s first-quarter MVP, the best defenseman on one of the best defense corps in the NHL and a legitimate contender for the Norris Trophy.
The fans in Raleigh love him, and he loves them back. But aside from letting his actions speak for him, Hamilton chooses to not fight back against the perceptions the hockey world has of him, largely because he doesn’t much care. “There are so many people with opinions and wrong opinions,” Hamilton said. “You can’t think about that stuff too much and read it and listen to it, because you know the truth.”
Given the chance to give his perspective on all of it, Hamilton doesn’t seem terribly interested in getting anything off his chest. He is asked what he thinks people should know about him. “No, you don’t have to say anything,” he said. “I’m fine with nothing.”
He’s learned our system and how we want it. I just think he’s in a good place
– Rod Brind’Amour, Hurricanes coach
On the ice, things have never been better for Hamilton. First, he’s spending more time on it than he ever has in his career, averaging more than 23 minutes per game through the first quarter of the season, which is about three-and-a-half minutes more than he played under coach Rod Brind’Amour last season. Hamilton is logging the heavy-lifting minutes along with Jaccob Slavin, playing on the first power-play unit as well as seeing time on the penalty kill.
With seven-plus seasons in the NHL to his credit, Hamilton is finding the sweet spot in his career. And he’s playing freely, without the specter of another trade hanging over his head. “He’s learned our system and how we want it and how we’re coaching it,” Brind’Amour said. “That takes a little bit of time, and I think he’s comfortable with it. I think he’s comfortable about how we talk to him about stuff. I just think he’s in a good place.”
And so were the Hurricanes through the first quarter. After dispatching of the defending Stanley Cup champions in the first round of the playoffs en route to an improbable run to the Eastern Conference final last year, the Bunch of Jerks were riding their point-per-game defenseman to the upper reaches of the NHL standings into late November.
Hamilton, meanwhile, has stepped into the breach after the Hurricanes dealt Justin Faulk prior to the season and has progressively turned the all-offense-no-defense narrative on its head. Hamilton has become a mentor to Andrei Svechnikov and Warren Foegele, who live in the same condo development, and is starting to put himself out there a little more. It has been suggested that, because he’s so firmly rooted and stable, Hamilton is living his best life. It’s a notion he’s not buying. “Some other people have said that too, where they’re like, I wasn’t comfortable in places before,” Hamilton said. “But I was comfortable in Boston and enjoyed it there, and the same with Calgary, I liked it there. I don’t really think that has anything to do with it. I don’t think it’s different from other cities or places I’ve been.”
A little more than a month after he took over as GM of the Hurricanes in 2018, Don Waddell made his first trade as an NHL GM in more than eight years on the draft floor at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, the day after taking Svechnikov with the second overall pick. Waddell swung for the fences, dealing Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin to Calgary in exchange for Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and prospect Adam Fox. Ferland left as a free agent after one season, and Fox was traded because he wasn’t going to sign with Carolina, which leaves it as Hamilton for Lindholm and Hanifin. And nobody on either side of that swap is complaining. “When you make a deal like that, you want to get a difference-maker,” Waddell said. “And I consider Dougie one of those guys.”
But there was a reason he was available. That was when the museum observation came out. Flames GM Brad Treliving made it clear he was changing the dressing-room dynamic as much as he was the players, and you don’t just trade a defenseman who scored 17 goals, particularly one you’ve signed to and is just halfway through a six-year deal, without a reason. “Dougie is a terrific talent on the ice,” Treliving cryptically said after the trade.
You want to get a difference-maker. I consider Dougie one of those
– Don Waddell, Hurricanes GM
Hamilton was clearly not pleased when the Flames waived his brother, Freddie, earlier that season, and something had to give. (It should be noted that Freddie was claimed by Arizona, played eight more games that season and has been inactive ever since.) “When you make a trade like this, you do your homework, and we talked to a lot of people, previous coaches and players who knew him,” Waddell said. “And they all said the same thing. I don’t want to say he was underappreciated or undervalued, but he always felt he could do more and wasn’t given an opportunity. He’s a hockey-first guy. He’s not a partier, and he doesn’t drink, and sometimes that carries with you.”
And then perceptions get created. Yes, Hamilton was the OHL’s scholastic player of the year in 2011, but that’s also an award Connor McDavid (twice), Steven Stamkos, Matt Duchene and Ryan Ellis have won. We’re told Hamilton is well read, but he said he doesn’t read more than most other people and, in fact, he didn’t have a single book on the go at the moment. “I did well in school and I always did my homework and stuff,” Hamilton said. “But it’s not like I read textbooks in my free time.”
Hamilton and the Hurricanes will be in a position this summer to extend his contract and give him more long-term security, a year out from when his current deal expires in the summer of 2021 and he becomes a UFA. He has been in other places longer, but this feels like a ridiculously good fit for him.
Hamilton has found the front-line role that he has always wanted, and he’s playing in a market where it’s appreciated by the front office and the fan base. You can never take these things for granted, as Hamilton has learned over the years. And for him, it’s probably best just to ride the wave while it’s high and not get too caught up in what might be. “I just like everything about playing hockey, being at the rink, being with teammates, going through the grind of everything and playing games and trying to get better and all that stuff,” he said.
“That’s what as a kid you dream of doing, playing in the NHL, and I think I’ve realized how lucky we are and to not take it for granted. I’ve realized that over the years and just enjoy it while it’s here and while I can. There’s going to
be a day where you can’t do that anymore, so you might as well just have as much fun as you can and do your best while you can.”