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Dougie Hamilton's value and the fear of offer sheets

June 9, 2015, 9:28 PM ET [69 Comments]
Ty Anderson
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As you’ve heard by now, Dougie Hamilton, like all of us, would like to get paid.

The numbers currently floated out there by those close to his agency (Hamilton is represented by CAA Sports), indicate that the 21-year-old would like a contract similar to that of the second pro contracts signed by LA defenseman Drew Doughty (eight years, $7 million cap-hit) or the Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo (seven years, $6.5 million cap-hit). So, Hamilton’s camp would like the Bruins to hand No. 27 a contract between $6-7 million per year for the next seven or eight years.

That’s a lot of cake.

Naturally, the follow-up debate has questioned whether or not Hamilton is worth such a contract.

You have one camp that believes that he’s not. A straight-up no, really. That crowd would typically prefer a shorter term bridge-deal (two years with a $4 million cap-hit, for example). Or in some cases, a pursuit on the B’s side to see what teams are willing to offer you in a trade for a signed, sealed, and delivered via trade Hamilton. Personally, I find this crowd, especially those who find themselves aligned with the latter train of thought, to be absolutely out of their minds when it comes to valuing a franchise defenseman. I don’t even wanna delve into why either of these end scenarios is a rational thought.

Actually, let me tell you why it’s not ‘cause it’s gonna bother me if I don’t.

In theory, a bridge deal can be a good idea for both parties. But maybe the Bruins can ask the Montreal Canadiens how that panned out with P.K. Subban. The Canadiens, not necessarily sold on the idea of Subban as a potential face of the franchise talent, signed No. 76 to a two-year contract worth $5.75 million. That contract came with a legit holdout, too, as Subban sat out the first week or so of games of the lockout-delayed season to hammer the deal out. Subban responded with 21 goals and 91 points in 124 contests and a Norris Trophy over the course of that two-year deal, and Habs were forced to pay the next time around. They inked the ultra-talented defender to a monster eight-year, $72 million deal.

That contract made Subban the highest paid defenseman in the league. It also showed off the potential pitfalls of challenging your players to ‘show me’ bridge deals in the sense that the Habs were paying Subban $9 million per season when they arguably could have paid him closer to Pietrangelo’s aforementioned $6.5 million per year cap-hit had they believed/invested/whatever from the start.

And haven’t the Bruins already learned the hard way when it comes to bridge deals and what they can do to your club? They did it with Tuukka Rask in 2012 by way of a one-year, $3.5 million pact. Rask responded with 19 wins and a .929 save percentage in 34 regular season starts, but made his money by way of an absurd 2013 postseason that featured a four-round run to the Stanley Cup Final carried by a downright ridiculous .940 save percentage. The Bruins then handed Rask an eight-year deal worth $56 million. It, at the time mind you, made Rask one of just two $7 million per year goaltenders.

If you hand Hamilton a bridge contract for the next two years -- maybe even three years -- and he continues to progress towards a Doughty, Pietrangelo, or even Subban level defenseman, how much money did you really save yourself when it’s time to sit down and hammer out that third contract?

We’re already at a point in this league where a guy like Jeff Petry is making $5.5 million a season for the next six seasons, so what do you honestly think a guy like Hamilton could command in two or three years? That’s not a slight towards Petry, by the way, as much as it’s a sign of the times when it comes to player salaries, especially at valued positions (like defense). General managers will tell you that the market is always changing, but there’s one constant in it, and it’s the salaries teams are essentially forced into doling out to their top-tier talents in a market routinely thin on high-end talent.

And let’s say you’re of the belief that the Bruins should trade Hamilton and simply maximize the return.

A couple of questions, if you don’t mind.

Who’s your heir apparent to top-pairing d-man Zdeno Chara when he decides to hang ‘em up? And I don’t care what anybody tells you or how much time Chara spends in the gym, that’s coming within the next five years you’d think, which will most definitely sneak up on you and come with a gradual dip in Chara’s overall play as a premier defender. You’re not finding a face-of-the-franchise defenseman close to Hamilton’s skill-set or pedigree on the free agent or trade market this summer, either. And if you think you’re finding it in the Draft within the next few years, what’s the point of banking on that hope when you already, y’know, have it, in Hamilton?

A 6-foot-5 defenseman that can move the puck, play a sound game in his own end, and drive the puck up ice at an elite rate like Hamilton has in his first three years, are not exactly found on trees. They’re special, special talents. And maybe Hamilton doesn’t do everything you want in a top-pairing defenseman, but he’s still just 21 years old, and sacrificing that for mere picks or lesser assets out of the pure, borderline absurd fear that he’ll never quite be everything you want out of a defenseman, is nuts.

Saying to a player, “Yeah, you do these nine of ten things at a staggeringly better level than most your age” but opting not to pay him because of that tenth thing is a simply terrible way to do business. And convincing yourself that a player three years into a career that went from Canadian juniors straight to the pros on a Stanley Cup contending club is incapable of developing some of those qualities, is dumb.

And new B’s GM Don Sweeney has essentially admitted that the Bruins are learning from the mistakes they may have made in the Tyler Seguin trade. The underlying message in that is that the Black and Gold aren’t exactly in a position to simply abandon youth when it’s time to pay them. Or that they cannot continue to make a habit of it (Top-line right-winger Phil Kessel, Seguin), anyways.

This leads me to believe that the Bruins will match any offer sheet thrown Hamilton’s way.

That is, of course, whether or not somebody actually throws an offer sheet his way.

Every summer, it seems as if we convince ourselves that this will be the summer where sheets fly like planes over East Boston. But since 2006, a grand total of eight players have signed offer sheets. All but one (Dustin Penner’s offer to leave the Ducks for Edmonton) have been matched. They’re basically mythological creatures. They hardly exist in today’s league, and there’s a reason for it. General managers are basically buddies with one another. They wouldn’t dare run the risk of burning a bridge and ‘poach’ another team’s young talent. They know what comes around goes around in that regard.

For example, two of those eight offer sheets involve the St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks. It was in July 2008 that the Canucks threw an offer sheet David Backes’ way. The Blues obviously matched Vancouver’s attempt to nab the future St. Louis captain, and countered by sending an offer sheet Steve Bernier’s way a week later. The Canucks matched. But there’s absolutely no way you could convince me that the Blues’ offer sheet was anything but a gigantic F-bomb to Vancouver.

If there’s an offer sheet thrown Hamilton’s way, the Bruins will match it. (If it’s a max contract, my feelings on that get a little fuzzy, obviously, but I don’t think a team would even consider doing that.)

But let’s say that that’s what happens. Or let’s just say that the Bruins sign Hamilton to a contract comparable to Doughty or Pietrangelo. You’ve aligned yourself with the second camp. But you’re not naive. You know that somebody of considerable value -- at least in terms of their contract -- has to go.

For a Boston club with less than $10 million to spend on Hamilton, Ryan Spooner, Brett Connolly, and a backup goaltender, something’s gotta give. Yeah, that’s absolutely true. But it won’t be some of the doomsday theories you’ve read or heard. When you talk about signing Hamilton to a new deal worth at least $6 million, one of the things you’re quick to hear is that the Black and Gold will have to make a ‘difficult decision’ on Chara or maybe Rask. In no world is your franchise goaltender or team captain the go-to option for any club that needs to ‘trim the fat’ off their salary cap. The Bruins would move every other complementary piece -- from Chris Kelly (limited no-trade) to Reilly Smith to Dennis Seidenberg (no-trade clause) -- before they would seriously entertain the idea of moving Chara or Rask for mere cap relief. They’d trade Milan Lucic, no-trade clause and all, out of town before any of those guys, too.

There’s risk in paying for future performance. And the Black and Gold are well aware of that. But there’s a greater risk in letting your future continue to walk every time you find yourself in a tight cap situation.

At this point, they should be all too familiar with both sides of the coin. If that helps.

Ty Anderson has been covering the Boston Bruins for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, is a member of the Pro Hockey Writers Association's Boston Chapter, and can be contacted on Twitter, or emailed at Ty.AndersonHB[at]gmail.com
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