More to come…
The New Jersey Devils have landed today’s biggest prize, signing Dougie Hamilton. It’s a seven-year deal paying a total of $63MM, meaning an average annual value of $9MM for the free agent defenseman. Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald released a lengthy statement about how excited the front office is to land a player of Hamilton’s caliber:
We are thrilled to welcome Dougie and his family to the New Jersey Devils organization. As a player and person, he has consistently shown a commitment to excellence and will play a leading role in our franchise’s return to an elite level in the League. We believe that the magnitude of his contributions on the ice will be equal to his impact on our culture as we continue to position ourselves for long-term success. I am proud of the work our entire staff did to promote the amazing attributes of this organization and to bring aboard one of the most sought-after free agents this year.
There’s no doubt about it, this is a huge win for a Devils team that has struggled to attract key free agents in the past. In fact, before today, only a single player on the active roster was acquired via free agency. That was Scott Wedgewood, who also just so happened to be drafted by the Devils back in 2010 and returned years later. Otherwise, the entire team was built through the draft or trade, something that Hamilton and new goaltender Jonathan Bernier change with their hefty deals today.
Hamilton, 28, will now be tied with teammate P.K. Subban and Colorado superstar Cale Makar for the fourth-highest cap hit among NHL defensemen next season, only behind Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty and Roman Josi. Seth Jones will join that group when his $9.5MM extension kicks in for 2022-23, but Subban’s contract will fall off the list as it expires. For that much money, Hamilton will have to perform at an elite level for the Devils if this contract is to be worth the risk.
So far in his career, that hasn’t been a problem. Norris Trophy finishes the last five years: 9th, 14th, 14th, 7th, 4th. The right-shot Hamilton has been one of the most consistent offensive defensemen in the league for seven seasons now, scoring at least ten goals and 39 points in each year since 2014-15. That includes 40+ point performances even in the last two shortened seasons. Equally effective on the powerplay or at even-strength, Hamilton’s puck-moving and playmaking ability far outweigh the defensive deficiencies he may have. Even those are sometimes overblown given how much he has the puck, though he won’t have quite the same quality of teammate in New Jersey.
Still, it’s hard to imagine he doesn’t continue to put up elite offensive numbers for the next few seasons, if not the whole contract. There’s no one to challenge him for the top powerplay spot and Hamilton’s potential partners should only improve moving forward. Ty Smith or Ryan Graves figure to line up next to him in 2021-22, but either one could be keeping the spot warm for top prospect Luke Hughes, selected fourth overall over the weekend. Hughes is off to the University of Michigan for the time being, but projects as a top-pairing defenseman with elite skating ability.
Even if that young talent is coming, the Devils will still be battling just to make for the playoffs next season. Hamilton is taking a significant step back from the Stanley Cup contender in Carolina and could potentially have some lean years. The entire Devils forward group is 26 or under, and only he, Subban, Bernier and Wedgewood are older than that. It’s a reason for excitement in New Jersey, but success may not come right away.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
The 28-year-old Danault enters the Los Angeles organization after a successful stint with the Montreal Canadiens. Finishing top-10 in Selke Trophy voting for the past three seasons, Danault has cemented himself as a truly elite defensive centerman who can play top-six minutes. While he’ll never break the bank offensively, nor should he see power-play time, Danault still carries 40-50 point upside with incredible solid possession numbers. He’s coming off a 24-point season in which he shot a near-career-low 6.8 percent, so some increased goal totals for next season should be expected.
Danault currently slots in as the Kings’ second-line center behind Anze Kopitar, but how long he holds that title remains to be seen. Danault’s strength in the faceoff dot likely cements him at the center position, so it’s reasonable to surmise that he could serve as the team’s third-line pivot by the end of the deal. The Kings have many young centers, especially Gabriel Vilardi and Quinton Byfield, who look to be consistent top-six contributors within the next few seasons. However Danault gets used, though, he’ll bring a strong impact to a team who’s struggled mightily defensively in recent years.
McGinn enters the Pittsburgh organization after nine years in the Carolina Hurricanes organization. A veteran of six NHL seasons now, McGinn tallied his 50th goal and 100th point in the NHL and also has a series-winning overtime goal under his belt. A reliable third-line winger, McGinn’s coming off a good year with 13 points in 37 games, more importantly, in a season that saw his defensive impacts skyrocket. He’ll likely slot in a third-line position again in Pittsburgh and could form part of a formidable two-way shutdown line if centered by Teddy Blueger.
What’s important in this deal is cost certainty for the Penguins. Signed through 2024-25 at a cap hit under $3.0MM, McGinn projects as being able to provide consistent performance for that dollar amount as he’ll enter his 30s at the end of the deal. It’s a solid deal for a dependable player and should help Pittsburgh navigate some uncertain salary-cap waters.