NHL Free Agency: New Jersey Devils early winners after huge Dougie Hamilton splash

Dougie Hamilton #19, Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Dougie Hamilton #19, Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The early winner of NHL Free Agency Award can be dished out to the New Jersey Devils.

It took a while but good things come to those who wait and that was the case for the New Jersey Devils who made the biggest splash of NHL Free Agency by signing elite defenseman Dougie Hamilton to a blockbuster contract.

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With around $31 million in cap space in which to weaponize and wanting to really make a statement, the Devils did just that by giving Hamilton a seven-year, $63 million contract with a $9 million Average Annual Value.

Arguably the biggest fish available in this year’s Free Agent class, it is somewhat of a surprise that the Devils – one of the NHL’s biggest underachievers in recent years – were able to convince Hamilton to make the Garden State his new home.

However, it is testament to what General Manager Tom Fitzgerald is trying to build in New Jersey, and the other things the Devils were able to accomplish so far this offseason, that a player of Hamilton’s ilk would make such a big commitment.

Dougie Hamilton (19)
Dougie Hamilton #19 of the Carolina Hurricanes. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

Dougie Hamilton a huge game-changer for the New Jersey Devils

After all, it isn’t like the blueliner didn’t have other offers, including to remain with the Carolina Hurricanes, given the impressive resume he has built and the gigantic leap he has taken in his game over the next couple of years.

Viewed through a certain prism, Hamilton really began to change his perception around the league with a stellar start to the 2019-20 season for the Canes, in which he recorded 40 points (14 G, 26 A) in 47 games to put himself firmly in the conversation for Norris Trophy consideration.

There was a cruel twist down the road, though, with a fractured fibula putting a premature end to both his season and his hopes of being crowned the best defenseman in the NHL.

Great players respond well in the face of adversity, however, and Hamilton bounced back with a vengeance in 2020-21, putting up 10 goals and 32 assists for 42 points in 55 games with a plus / minus rating of +20 to establish himself as one of the premiere offensive blueliners in the NHL.

Therefore, the 28-year-old was always going to be in line for a massive payday this offseason and, after Carolina failed to meet his demands, he will now suit up for the Devils for the next seven years and he’s a game-changer for this franchise.

An elite No. 1 defenseman, Hamilton will be the headliner act on the top-pairing for the Devils in 2021-22, he will be a leader and a veteran presence on and off the ice for what is a young core, he will be an absolute weapon on the power play and he will very much be the face of this rebuild.

Dougie Hamilton (19)
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton (19). Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

With an exciting core headlined by the likes of Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Mackenzie Blackwood, Ty Smith and, down the road, Luke Hughes, Hamilton will be seen as the piece to help this team take the next big step in their overall maturation process and he will make them a more competitive team in the Metro Division next season.

As already mentioned, he will be good for anywhere between 40-60 points, his power play prowess will be a lethal weapon and having a legit No. 1 defenseman should give the rest of the lineup a lot of confidence.

It doesn’t hurt as well that Hamilton signing a blockbuster deal probably boosts New Jersey’s credibility in Free Agency going forward, especially if this move pans out, and this signing can be seen as a huge game-changer for this franchise in general.

They get a top-pairing defenseman, a general for their vastly-improved blueline, a power play specialist, a veteran who knows what it takes to win games in big moments in the NHL, and Hamilton’s arrival should excite and energize both the New Jersey fans and those players in the locker room.

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This is a real statement moment for the New Jersey Devils who will now look to accelerate this rebuild and take a giant step towards becoming a relevant force in the National Hockey League again, and going out and snagging the best prize available in Free Agency in Hamilton will go a long way towards making that a reality sooner rather than later.