Don Sweeney has been busy since taking over as the new general manager of the Boston Bruins.
He’s been preparing for the 2015 NHL Draft, which included a trip to Buffalo last weekend for the Draft Combine. He also made a decision on the fate of head coach Claude Julien, ultimately choosing to retain the longest-tenured coach in the league.
But the most important task on Sweeney’s to-do list before free agency begins should be re-signing defenseman Dougie Hamilton. The soon-to-be 22-year-old blueliner will become a restricted free agent if unsigned by July 1.
Hamilton was among Boston’s best players this past season, and Julien believes he has the potential to be a No. 1 defenseman.
“I do, I do,” Julien said Wednesday at Ristuccia Arena. “We keep forgetting that he?s a 21-year-old, and that?s a really young player right there. And to have the impact that he?s had on our team, I think people noticed it even more when he missed the last few weeks of the season — how much we missed a guy like him. And that?s the kind of impact that he has on our team.
“And he?s a great defenseman, there?s no doubt we like him. I think his teammates really appreciate what he brings to the table every night. And I think they realize what they missed when he wasn?t in the lineup. So I?m going to leave that one up to (Don Sweeney). As coaches, we have our big challenges, and that?s Don?s big challenge. So we?re all hoping that he can get something done and hoping we can see him here at training camp.”
Based on Hamilton’s play this season, you could make a strong case that he’s already the Bruins’ best defenseman. Seven B’s defensemen played 400-plus minutes in 2014-15, and Hamilton scored at a rate two times that of his teammates — with the exception of Torey Krug — per 60 minutes.
When you include the last three seasons — the entirety of Hamilton’s career, to date — he has generated shot attempts, suppressed opponents’ shot attempts and scored at an impressive rate, as the chart below from Own the Puck illustrates.
His possession stats are even more impressive when you factor his quality of competition (second-best among B’s D-men in 2014-15 using 5-on-5 CorsiRel QoC) and the fact that he began just 47.5 percent of his 5-on-5 shifts in the attacking zone.
Aside from Hamilton’s on-ice play, it’s important to re-sign him because it’s so difficult to acquire a top-tier defenseman.
How many elite-level defensemen are traded? How many hit the market as unrestricted free agents? The answer to both questions is not many. The best way to acquire these players is through the draft, so a team can develop them and hopefully re-sign them if they reach their potential.
The Bruins made a great pick to select Hamilton ninth overall in 2011 when several quality defensemen still were on the board. Every championship team needs a No. 1 defenseman, and Hamilton has the potential to be that kind of player for a long time.
Re-signing Hamilton should be a top priority for the Bruins before the craziness of free agency commences and teams are able to extend an offer sheet to him.
Thumbnail photo via Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports Images