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There were times Thursday when Dougie Hamilton sounded like he was leaving the Carolina Hurricanes, and then times when the defenseman sounded like someone who intended to stay.
Hamilton also took a jab at the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that ended the Canes’ season. That stoked social media.
Hamilton, if not re-signed by the Canes, will become an unrestricted free agent on July 28, when NHL free agency begins. There are NHL teams hoping he does and some will be lined up with lucrative offers for a right-shot defenseman with his brand of offensive flair.
Hamilton and his agent, J.P. Barry, agreed to put any contract talks with the Hurricanes on hold until after the season. For the Canes, that came Tuesday when the Lightning clinched the second-round series with a 2-0 victory over Carolina in Game 5 at PNC Arena.
And where do things stand now with a new contract?
“To be honest I don’t really have any idea right now,” Hamilton said Thursday on his end-of-season interview with the media. “As I talked about before, I really wanted to focus on hockey and we didn’t talk about the contract. I wasn’t involved at all, really. I let my agent. They kind of tabled conversations until after the season and I’m sure they’ll start talking again soon.”
Barry, contacted Thursday, said the two sides tried to reach an agreement at the start of the season but couldn’t get it done.
“It was all amiable, we just had different views of the market,” Barry said via email. “We mutually decided to table it so it wasn’t a distraction.”
Barry said he expected to hear back soon from Canes’ president and general manager Don Waddell and resume talks.
Did the Lightning game the salary cap system?
For Hamilton, like the other Canes, shaking off the series loss to the Lightning is not easy. He noted that after a day off Wednesday, he returned to PNC Arena on Thursday feeling like there should be more hockey to play, as if the playoff routine should continue.
It will, for Tampa Bay as the Lightning look to make it back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. The Canes can only look to next season.
“We’re definitely close,” Hamilton said. “We had a great season. We lost to a team that’s $18 million over the cap or whatever they are. Unbelievable goalie and all that stuff. I thought we played them pretty close. A couple of those games could have gone either way, especially the early games where it changes the feel of the series.”
Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov spent the regular season recovering from offseason hip surgery and on Long Term Injured Reserve, his $9.5 million not counting against the salary cap (Marian Gaborik and Anders Nilsson also were on LTIR.) Kucherov did not return until the playoffs, when the salary cap does not come into play -- all allowed under the league’s CBA but not preventing Tampa Bay from being criticized by some who claim the Lightning gamed the system.
Hamilton’s “$18 million over the cap” comment caused considerable social media chatter Thursday. He did walk that comment back a bit before the interview ended when it was brought up again.
“It is what it is. You don’t really think about that stuff,” Hamilton said. “You’re out there playing and teams have injuries, teams have full lineups or whatever. It’s just how it worked out.
“I wasn’t knocking the rules or anything. You realize how many weapons they have. If you think about how many more players you could add with that money, and stuff like that, to your team and you realize how much deeper you would be. That’s just how it worked out and I know it’s happened to teams in the past. I don’t have a problem with it.”
Dougie Hamilton’s contract details
The Canes did not have injured forward Nino Niederreiter until Game 5 in the series against the Lightning. Center Vincent Trocheck, injured in Game 2, said Thursday he suffered a sprained MCL but was determined to play Game 5 with the Canes facing elimination.
“If the season was going to end I didn’t want to be in the stands,” he said.
Defenseman Brett Pesce left Game 5 after taking an elbow to the head from Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat, but said Thursday, “I’m all good. It was a tough hit but I’m fine.”
Hamilton, 27, again mentioned how much he has enjoyed playing for the Canes since being traded to Carolina by the Calgary Flames during the NHL Draft in June 2018. While his time in Calgary apparently wasn’t always enjoyable, the Toronto native seemingly has been more relaxed and at ease with the setting in Raleigh, with the Canes.
“I really enjoy it here,” Hamilton said. “I’ve got some really good friends. Some really good people in the room and away from the room, off the ice. A lot of friends I’ll have and the staff, everybody in the organization is great.
“So I have nothing bad to say about being a Carolina Hurricane. I really enjoyed it. Hopefully, we can keep going.”
Salary and term on a new contract will determine that. Hamilton’s expiring contract, initially signed with Calgary, paid him $5.75 million a season for six years. He could be seeking a new pact that pays close to $8 million or more, in keeping with the top defensemen in the league are paid.
Stats amid a condensed NHL season
During the condensed 56-game regular season, Hamilton joined Jaccob Slavin on the Canes’ top defensive pairing, quarterbacked the top power-play unit and put up some impressive offensive numbers.
Hamilton, who averaged 22:43 in ice time, finished with 42 points -- 10 goals and 32 assists -- in 55 games, tying forward Andrei Svechnikov for third in scoring on the team. That would equate to a 63-point season over the regular 82 games.
Among NHL defensemen, Hamilton was fifth in goals, ninth in assists and seventh in points in the regular season. He had two goals and three assists in 11 playoff games.
“I wanted to establish myself as an all-around defenseman,” he said. “I’m happy with the way I’ve developed and improved and stuff, breaking my leg last year (2020) and coming back this year. It’s definitely not easy. I’m definitely proud of myself for going through that and coming back.
“I think I’m hungry to become a better player and I think I can do that.”