Dougie Hamilton (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
In the absence of Zdeno Chara for the next four-to-six weeks, players such as Dougie Hamilton will have to fill the void. Hamilton is well equipped to do just that. He's been brought along slowly and shows every indication he's ready to accept the challenge.
Shortly after earning the second assist on the Boston Bruins first goal of the evening Saturday night, Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton was referred to as ‘Doogie’ Hamilton by Air Canada Centre public address announcer Andy Frost.
A little bit like Doogie Howser, Doogie Hamilton is something of a child prodigy. All right, that might be a stretch for a 21-year-old kid, but considering he’s already in his third year in the league and due for a big payday next season, we’re prepared to declare him on the fast track. (It also gives us an excuse to run this video.)
Doogie or Dougie, it doesn’t really matter to him, just as long as public address announcers keep saying it. With the injury to Zdeno Chara, Hamilton is one of the Bruin defenders who will have to step up and fill the void for his behemoth defense partner. And to say the early returns are encouraging would be an understatement. In Chara’s first game on the sidelines, Hamilton logged more ice time than any player on either team and contributed a goal and two assists in the Bruins 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It was pretty funny. I got a good laugh out of it,” Hamilton said. “I usually hear it in Montreal and in the past in minor hockey in French places. Never thought I would hear it in Toronto.”
Earlier in the day, Bruins coach Claude Julien said it would be unfair to put undue pressure on a 21-year-old kid to fill the skates of Chara. But here’s the thing. Hamilton actually looks ready to do it. He’s been brought along slowly by the Bruins and placed in situations where he could succeed. Now that he’s needed, he’s a well-seasoned 21-year-old with good size, skills and acumen for the game. There’s no reason why Hamilton cannot emerge as the stud on this team for the next six weeks.
“It’s an opportunity, right?” Hamilton said. “It’s a little more of a role and personally, I like that. I look forward to that. I don’t want to change anything because if you try to do too much, that’s when it comes back to hurt you. I just want to make simple plays and play good defense.”
The Bruins would probably like to know how their team will respond to not having Chara in the lineup for the next six weeks, but the fact is they probably don’t have a clue. Going into their game Saturday night, they had played 631 games with Chara on the roster and Chara had played 611 of them. Of the 20 games he’s missed since joining the Bruins in 2006-07, only 11 of them have been because of injury, with the other nine coming during stretches post-Olympics or at the end of the season when the Bruins sat Chara out to rest him.
“I always go back to my first year here in Boston (2007-08) when we lost (Patrice) Bergeron eight games in and we lost him for the year,” Julien said. “And we were a lot thinner up front than we are now. We just rallied as a group and managed to get in the playoffs and really fought hard all year to compensate for that and I think that’s what you’re seeing now.”
It will undoubtedly require a cohesive effort, but it’s one that would receive an enormous boost by Hamilton stepping up. And the young man has quite a bit to gain here himself. For three years, Hamilton has played in the shadow of Chara – sometimes literally as his defense partner – and this stretch may give him the opportunity to display his abilities to lead a defense corps.
Hamilton has performance bonuses that top out at $850,000 this season – for 10 goals, 25 assists, 40 points, top four defensemen in ice time, top three in plus-minus and in blocked shots – so the added responsibility could give him a chance to make an enormous amount of headway on the bonuses. And if he can establish himself as an impact player in Chara’s absence, it certainly won’t hurt his case when he negotiates a new deal after this season.
Chara’s absence might also be a wake-up call for the Bruins, who were 4-5-0 going into Saturday’s game. Being without one of the game’s truly dominant players, the Bruins realize it’s imperative they receive a complete effort from everyone on the roster. (It helps when your first game is against a team that had almost no will to compete, as the Maple Leafs did Saturday night. They bailed out repeatedly on loose pucks, refused to use their speed and seemed completely uninterested in engaging in anything even resembling a physical game. "Frustration and anger," Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said when asked to describe his emotions were after the loss.)
“They’re compensating for the loss of a pretty important defenseman,” Julien said of his team. “But as a group instead of leaning on one guy, we lean on each other.”