BOSTON — No one stands to benefit if the owners opt to lock out the players once again and force yet another work stoppage if a new collective bargaining agreement for the NHL can't be reached this summer.
But the Bruins could be in line to lose more than most, as even a brief lockout could keep talented defense prospect Dougie Hamilton out of the NHL for an extra year.
Hamilton, the ninth overall pick of the 2011 draft, is expected to make the leap to the big club in Boston this season and play in the Bruins' top six on the blue line. After dominating the Ontario Hockey League last year en route to earning honors as both the OHL and the Canadian Hockey League defenseman of the year, there's not much left to be gained for Hamilton with another year in the junior ranks.
But it would be better for him to play in Niagara than not play at all, so Hamilton would probably be sent back to the OHL if the NHL season does not begin on time. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli admitted on Tuesday that he wasn't certain what would happen with Hamilton in such a scenario, but stated it is likely that the young defenseman would return to junior.
"What I can tell you from a previous work stoppage is that those players that are under 20 and have been in the Canadian Hockey League generally go back," Chiarelli said.
Hamilton, 19, is not eligible to be sent to the Bruins' American Hockey League affiliate in Providence and under the terms of the agreement the NHL has with the CHL, players cannot be recalled from their junior club during the season once they have been assigned there. That would leave Hamilton in Niagara until the IceDogs season is completed, even if the NHL resumes play after a short lockout.
There is a possibility that exceptions to that rule could be made in the event of a lockout that wiped out just a portion of the NHL schedule, but Chiarelli was uncertain if any such changes would be enacted even temporarily under such extraordinary circumstances.
"If there's a work stoppage, all that stuff will get sorted out, but I don't have any more clarity on that other than what I've known in the past," Chiarelli said.
Chiarelli does know that ideally the labor talks will be settled without a stoppage and Hamilton will make his NHL debut in October as expected. Chiarelli is confident in both Hamilton's ability to earn a job in Boston this season and in coach Claude Julien's ability to ease the youngster's transition into the NHL and develop him into the kind of defenseman the Bruins expect Hamilton to become.
"One of the things that we've accomplished, that Claude has accomplished, is we've brought youth into our lineup and allowed them to develop and succeed rather than throw them into the fire right away," Chiarelli said. "Dougie Hamilton is a player that we would hope that he would get into our lineup and fall into that category."
Now if only everyone could be as confident in the owners not locking out the players and jeopardizing another season — and Hamilton's timely arrival in Boston.
Thumbnail photo via Facebook/Dougie Hamilton