CALGARY – So, we can dispel one Dougie Hamilton myth pretty quickly right off the bat.
He went to dinner with at least one of his teammates on Thursday night prior to Friday’s showdown between the Bruins and Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome, so any dislike for him wasn’t “unanimous” in the Bruins dressing room as was infamously reported this summer.
Once again on Friday following morning skate, the 22-year-old had nothing but positives to say about his experience in Boston, and his time with the Bruins. He did voice disappointment with the post-trade criticism that he was not well-liked on the team, and that he simply didn’t want to play for the Bruins anymore.
Hamilton maintains it was quite the opposite, in fact.
“I’m going to try to treat it like any other game. It’s a little different when it’s your friends that you’re going up against, but I’ll just try to play my game,” said Hamilton. “I think there will always be a little bit of Boston in me, and I’m thankful for everything they gave me. You spend a couple of years really cheering for them, and dreaming of putting that jersey on when you’re drafted.
“So you spend a couple of years like that, and then it all changes pretty quick. So I still like the B’s, and the guys on their team and stuff. For me it’s already passed and I’ve moved on. I’m enjoying my time here. It’ll be fun tonight, and hopefully we can win.”
One thing the defenseman would admit was some of the same issues that cropped up with Tyler Seguin in Boston amongst a group of well-established veterans that were more preoccupied with family time than team-bonding experiences. It’s become a hard question that the Bruins are asking themselves internally about why Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton were all bad fits in Boston as elite-skilled lottery picks in the first round, and all moved in trades within a 10-year period.
Either the Bruins aren’t doing enough due diligence on the kid’s backgrounds prior to drafting them, or the atmosphere at the NHL level hasn’t been patient enough waiting for their formidable skills to develop.
B’s President Cam Neely admitted to CSNNE.com this summer during the Winter Classic announcement at Foxboro that it’s an issue the team is fully investigating.
“We obviously take a hard look at something like that,” said Neely. “It’s something we’re aware of, and we have to build an organization where we’re drafting and developing, and developing not just on the ice but off the ice as well…expectations for the organization, and what do we expect from a professional hockey player that’s going to play for the Boston Bruins.
“We have to help nurture them. It’s a tough transition for a young player going to a big city where it’s really focused on the sport, and [the young players] don’t really know anybody outside of the game. It’s something we’ve looked at…how we do improve the club from top to bottom both on and off the ice?”
Essentially it’s more of a comfortable environment for Hamilton on a team stacked with talented 20-somethings like Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett and Sean Monahan rather than a grizzled, battle-hardened group of Bruins that didn’t have a lot in common with the cerebral Hamilton.
“I don’t know. I think it’s probably the same challenge for every young player in the league,” said Hamilton. “For me when I first came to Boston, I was playing junior before that and hanging out 16-year-olds. Everybody is kind of going to school, and going to movies together and stuff like that.
“When you come to the NHL everybody has families, and you don’t hang out as much at the rink. Guys are going home to their families and kids. That’s an adjustment that every young player in the league has to make.”
Whatever the case, the full truth is never coming out from either side.
The Bruins certainly look like they had a well-orchestrated plan to deal Hamilton, and then move up in the draft to select a Dougie replacement in Boston College product Noah Hanifin. That is until the second half of the deal fell apart for Don Sweeney and the B’s, and they were left scrambling a bit with three consecutive first round picks in the middle of the draft.
Still, the fact the Bruins were looking to move on from Hamilton spoke volumes about their uneasiness in assuming he would develop into the eventual No. 1 D-man replacement for Zdeno Chara. Certainly there was an unwillingness to pay Hamilton like that kind of a player just three years into his NHL career.
Hamilton also had his moments where he could be high maintenance in Boston: he was a little more sensitive than most to criticism of his game in the media, and – as is the case with many of the lottery first round picks and World Junior players in Canada – his family was pretty heavily involved in the path of Hamilton’s hockey career.
It would seem all of these factors played some contributing role in what went down with Hamilton, but he wasn’t going to open up on any of it.
“There’s not really much to say, I don’t think,” said Hamilton. “You get ready to go to a whole new team, new country and new teammates. It’s a new experience and I’ve enjoyed it so far.
“At the end of the day people can say whatever they want. For me I know the truth and I know who I am as a person, and I think people that know me know that too. I think that’s what kind of matters, so you don’t pay too much attention to [the criticism].”
The bottom line is that both player and team are paying the price for their quickie divorce last summer at the draft. Hamilton has only six points and a minus-6 in 25 games while struggling to adjust to a new team, and a new home in Calgary while not even looking like the D-man he was in his final year in Boston.
He’s played better lately and had the overtime game-winner in a comeback victory for the Flames over the Stars in their last game, but he has a long way to go before he’s earning the big money he signed for in Calgary. On the other side, the Bruins have struggled defensively while currently ranking 22nd in the league overall, and are trying to get by with a couple of rookies (Zach Trotman and Colin Miller) in their top-4 group right now.
So, they clearly still both miss each other, and it underscores how on some level it still seems fairly absurd that player and team couldn’t find a way to make things work last summer.