We love Dougie Hamilton here at SCoC. There probably aren't that many Bruins fans who don't, frankly. The defenceman has fast become one of the Bruins' key players since his ascension to the roster full-time in the 2012/13 season, cementing himself as a top-pair defenseman and one of the best young players in the NHL.
This season, though, the Bruins have some tough decisions to make. With hardly any cap-space and Hamilton an RFA due for one heck of a raise, the Toronto native is due for a big payday...one that the Bruins may struggle to accomodate if other NHL teams smell potential blood in the water.
Amongst the SCoC staff there's been discussion recently of a potentially horrifying scenario for Hamilton fans everywhere...that of the RFA offer sheet coming into play.
Right now, speculation has Hamilton's new contract coming in at around the $4.5 million/year range...round about half of the cap the Bruins have to play with to sign all of their remaining upcoming FA's at current salary cap levels. That's more than worth it, you'd think, given that Hamilton is one of the jewels of the Bruins blueline But given that there's still no word on a new contract and no hint of negotiations continuing right now, the front office may be leaving the door ajar for a jewel heist.
Right now, there are a whole bunch of teams out there with the potentially lethal (to Boston) combination of a need to search for a number-one defenseman in FA this summer and a lot of cap space to do it with. Let's just say that one of those teams (the ones mentioned most often so far have been Buffalo & Edmonton, although looking at NHL salaries Calgary, Ottawa and Arizona are all equally positioned for a possible raid) decides to throw a Godfather offer-sheet at Hamilton, much as Philadelphia did with Shea Weber a few years ago.
Let's say that offer-sheet, too, is a truly massive one, as a team goes all-in to gain a player who could be their number-one defenseman for years to come. Hamilton is currently joint-5th in scoring on the Bruins with 42 points, the team's top defenseman. He's also third on the team in TOI, behind only Chara and Seidenberg. To reach that level at the age of 21 is the kind of thing you'd expect from an elite talent who's only going to get better still.
This thinking leads to the following scenario. What if a team tries its luck and goes after Hamilton in a similar fashion to the way Philadelphia went after Weber?
Stick with us here. Here are the current compensation levels as agreed by the NHL for offer sheets, from the CBA.
Hypothetically, a team like Buffalo decides to go all-in on Hamilton. Knowing the Bruins cap squeeze, they tender an offer sheet at the higher end of the scale. The Bruins would have to match this, right, even at the expense of the cap space.
Or would they?
Given the compensation above, is there a possibility that the Bruins have a threshold set already by which they let Hamilton walk for the compensation levels listed above?
I know. It's heresy, right? But let's look at this thing. A few years ago, Philadelphia offered a monster of a sheet to Shea Weber that went up to 7.8 million a year on average. While we're not going to assume that Hamilton's offer sheet will dwarf Weber's, let's say it gets close.
Then the question becomes this...with the Bruins having a relatively deep defense, potential to draft another strong D in 2015 (keep an eye on our draft coverage for the lowdown on them in the coming weeks) and prospects to step up from the AHL together with any acceptance of the offer putting them hard against the cap...could this be the circumstance that sees them let Hamilton walk?
Certainly, it's a scenario Bruins fans will hope they never see. But with three or four draft picks and a potential for four first-rounders in compensation-how much do the organisation think Hamilton is worth?
Of course, with a cap that had been properly managed the past few seasons the Bruins wouldn't even be in this position. They shouldn't have allowed themselves to get into this position, particularly with Hamilton becoming one of the top young d-men in the NHL and set as part of the Bruins roster for years to come.
But the point here is that they have done, and the door is open for another NHL team to seriously test the Bruins' resolve to keep their young star. The danger here is that we're now in the perfect storm situation of other teams with cap space, an elite young talent coming to the end of his contract and not much room to re-sign him.
Defensemen like Hamilton simply don't come along that often. But now Dougie has played himself into a position where the Bruins may well have to shell out some serious money to keep him-money that other teams have more of.
We're now very much in a situation that could have long-term repercussions for the Bruins-and all it takes is another team to throw in an offer-sheet to start the dominos falling.
Someone in the NHL is going to be looking at the Hamilton cap situation and licking their lips unless it's sorted out very quickly.
And the Bruins are going to have some very tough decisions to make.
The question here is, just how valuable is Dougie Hamilton to Boston? This summer, if another NHL team decides to tender an offer sheet, we'll find out.