Calgary Flames: In Defence of the Dougie Hamilton trade

In case you hadn’t heard, the Calgary Flames made a trade. Nothing major. They just got rid of an elite defender, a fan favourite 20-goal scorer and a blue chip prospect. Fans of the team were…put off. The online tirade of vitriol that followed the deal was amazing. People, myself included, were upset that the Calgary Flames had overpaid for the two assets coming to Calgary. But is it possible that fans are looking at this deal the wrong way?

Dougie’s gone, folks.  So is Ferly and that Fox kid we’d heard so much about.

I know you’re angry and I understand why.  On it’s face, the trade that sent Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox to Carolina in exchange for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin is nothing short of a charitable donation to the Hurricanes.

RALEIGH, NC – MARCH 26: Noah Hanifin #5 of the Carolina Hurricanes prepares for a faceoff during an NHL game on March 26, 2016 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Phil Ellsworth/NHLI via Getty Images)

All the outlets seem to agree.  Be it the pros at Sportsnet and TSN, or amateur fan sites like FlamesNation and Matchsticks & Gasoline, the determination is that the Carolina Hurricanes won the trade.  And, statistically speaking, that’s difficult to argue with.

But as I sobered up from my bender of moral outrage, I began to look at the players the Calgary Flames sent off. Certainly all had value. But, in each case, there was a compelling reason to move them.

So, I wonder.  Perhaps this trade was not about the ACQUISITION of assets. Perhaps it was about their DISPOSAL.

Looked at from that point of view, the deal seems more palatable. Let’s look at each of them.

Dougie Hamilton

In 2016, then Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke appeared on TSN 1050 radio in Toronto. He was addressing trade rumours surrounding Hamilton at the time. In his categorical denial of any intention to move the player, he sarcastically said:

(Hamilton is) six-foot-five, he weighs 237 pounds, he’s a right shot, skates like a deer — he’s a good hockey player. Yeah, let’s move him! Let’s get rid of him.

Who wouldn’t agree with that?  Last season alone put Hamilton among the elite defenders in the NHL.  On it’s face, trading him for anything shy of a first round draft pick or bona fide superstar seems insane.

But on the day of the trade, in his interview on the NHL Draft floor in Dallas, GM Brad Treliving intimated that he wanted players that “wanted to be in Calgary”.  I had perceived that comment to apply to Adam Fox.  But, perhaps not.

In his piece for Sportsnet, columnist Eric Francis went steps further, outing Hamilton as a cause of the Calgary Flames’ late season collapse last year.  He said:

Hamilton was the player the Flames most wanted to part with, as he was the poster boy for a squad that had far too many players who seemed all too content with the shocking number of losses that mounted down the stretch.

(He has now) been traded twice in four seasons – a rarity for a player with his numbers and stature.

A red flag for most teams, making him harder to trade than casual observers would think. Thus, the Flames had to sweeten the pot.

After the Flames waived his brother, Freddie in January, several things Hamilton did in the latter stages of this season indicated he wasn’t happy here.

So the narrative here is that Dougie Hamilton had to leave Calgary for many of the same reasons that Mike Hoffman had to leave the Ottawa Senators.  Certainly Hamilton’s offenses are not as egregious as Hoffman’s and his fiance’s.  But dressing room poison is dressing room poison.  And it has to be removed.

At least that’s how the narrative goes.

Micheal Ferland

Ferland is an easy guy to like.  He gained a great deal of exposure on the top line with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.  He has a very attractive cap hit $1.75M, particularly for the caliber of player that he is evolving into.

Trading Ferland now solves a future problem for Treliving, as well.  Ferland’s contract expires at the end of next season (2018-2019).  At that time, the 20-goal scorer will likely ask for (and deserve) a raise, barring any performance issues next year.  Unfortunately, Matthew Tkachuk’s entry-level contract expires at the same time as Ferland’s.  Tkachuk was on pace for 30 goals before being shut down with a suspected concussion.  Should that continue next year, he will be due a very big raise (somewhere close to linemate Mikael Backlund’s $5.35M, I would expect).

With Backlund’s raise taking effect next season, the Flames are running short on cap room, all things being equal.  Treliving, I’m sure, knew that cap space needs to be available for a new deal for Tkachuk.  As such, there may simply be no room for a Ferland deal come next season’s end.  Obviously, getting value for Ferland now is the better option against letting him go in free agency.

Adam Fox

Fox wasn’t staying, folks.  Treliving, called it a “signing issue” in his interview.  But that’s putting it politely.

Going further, I’d speculate that, if he wasn’t interested in the Calgary Flames, neither will he be too excited about the perennial cellar-dwelling in Carolina.  This kind of feels like the same picture painted by fellow Harvard alum, Jimmy Vesey.  Vesey was drafted in 2012 by the Nashville Predators.  But, instead of signing with the Preds, he opted to play all 4 years in the NCAA, thus qualifying him for unrestricted free agency upon graduation.  His ultimate destination was the New York Rangers.

Adam Fox’s situation looks very Vesey-ish to me.

Disposal, Not Acquisition

Viewed through the lens of asset disposal, this deal seems, at a minimum, more logical.  Value for these players was less than that perceived by onlookers like us because Treliving’s fellow GMs understood the situation.  As such, Lindholm and Hanifin are fine returns.

My only complaint is that the Calgary Flames did not really address their needs with this deal.  Hanifin is an adequate successor to Hamilton on the blue line.  But Lindholm does not seem to have the offensive skill required to be dangerous on the third line (where scoring is desperately needed).  Indeed, Head Coach Bill Peters considers him an option on a first line that has no trouble putting the puck in the net.

As with all trades, time will tell.

Stay tuned for a possible Part II to this article.