Will Dougie Hamilton remain a Carolina Hurricane next season?
It's the biggest question going into this off-season for the team.
Since arriving in Carolina three years ago, Hamilton has blossomed into a legit top defenceman in the league. His teammate, and primary defensive partner, was unequivocal in whether Hamilton should return.
"I want him back," Jaccob Slavin said last week. "I enjoy playing with him...He's been a huge part of this team and our success."
The numbers back up Slavin's opinion. Hamilton's nine-year career is neatly divided across three teams with three seasons spent in each: Boston, Calgary, and Carolina.
And while he boasts solid career numbers, his stats soared in his last three years with Carolina.
Take his plus/minus rating.
In Boston, it was +23; Calgary: -1; Carolina: +50.
Similar trends exist in goals-per-game, points-per-game, and hits.
So it makes sense that the Canes would want to keep him, but can they?
Option One - Resign Hamilton
Unfortunately, the most obvious option--Hamilton renewing his contract--might be the least likely option at this point.
Well, it hasn't happened.
That might sound silly, but it's not.
Once a player is only a month away from entering unrestricted free agency, they tend to do it.
And then, they tend to leave.
As Elliotte Freidman reported today, the Canes have already granted Hamilton permission to negotiate with other teams.
Friedman noted this could be a negotiating strategy to help Hamilton get a sense of the market, but it doesn't seem likely to help Carolina in the end.
After all, the lead-up to free-agency is supposed to benefit the current contract holder and give them exclusive negotiating rights (and leverage) to help re-sign the player. So, giving that right away does little to help Carolina.
The more straightforward explanation for this move is that Hamilton and Carolina are probably way too far apart to make a deal.
If the two sides are hopelessly deadlocked, letting Hamilton talk to other teams might benefit both parties because it could lead to a sign & trade.
Option Two - Sign and Trade
It's not an ideal situation for Carolina, but it might be the best hope if Hamilton is not interested in re-signing.
Under this scenario, Carolina would re-sign Hamilton to a contract extension--then immediately trade him.
One hypothetical scenario:
Carolina signs Hamilton to a $10m/year, six-year deal. They then trade Hamilton to Columbus in exchange for Seth Jones (a right-handed defenceman who has made it known he wants out of Columbus).
There's an obvious benefit for Carolina to do this--they get something, anything, in return for losing one of the league's top defencemen.
But what would Hamilton get out of it?
In a way, it creates a free-agency market with only one player: Dougie Hamilton. With the news out there that he's looking at offers, it incentivizes all the teams that are interested in signing Dougie to make their best offers now. After all, if another team lures him (and Carolina) in the next few days, Hamilton never makes it to the free agency period that begins July 27.
Option Three - Hamilton Enters Free Agency
At the end of the day, Dougie Hamilton holds all the important cards in this process. And with each passing day, it looks more and more like he wants to test the waters of free agency.
Carolina's front office can and should match any reasonable offer for Hamilton. As Jaccob Slavin pointed out, Hamilton is a big part of why Carolina has made the playoffs in each of the last three years. Replacing him in free agency or via trade will not be easy.
That said, there's very little Don Waddell, Tom Dundon, or Rod Brind'Amour can do if Hamilton truly wants a change of scenery.
The free-agency period opens on July 27, and at this point, it looks like Dougie Hamilton might walk out the door--leaving Carolina with nothing to show for it.