The New Jersey Devils are ready to compete. With the addition of Dougie Hamilton to the blueline on a seven-year deal worth $63 million, New Jersey made a big statement on the first day of free agency, adding a solid veteran to a young team with some solid potential.
Hamilton is a right-shot defender, the most coveted subgenre in the NHL, and he'll be joining an evolving blueline that also added the big and physical Ryan Graves via trade from Colorado recently. With youngster Ty Smith emerging as a solid offensive defenseman this past season and Damon Severson providing an experienced two-way game, a franchise that has truly struggled to keep the puck out of its own net recently has a lot more hope for 2021-22 (there's also the big X-factor of what the team does with P.K. Subban, whose play has dropped off and who still has one year left with a $9 million cap hit).
So what do the Devils get in Dougie?
To begin with, Hamilton is one of the best power play defensemen in the NHL right now and New Jersey just so happened to be one of the weakest teams on the man advantage last season. His ability to produce offense from the back end will be a boon for the team and he's strong at even-strength in that regard as well.
Hamilton can eat minutes thanks to his smarts and his offensive skills make him one of the most valuable blueliners in the NHL from an analytics perspective (his defense is good as well, but sometimes the best way to keep the puck out of your goal is to put it into the other's team net).
At 28, Hamilton still has a number of good years in him and New Jersey will surely benefit greatly from his services in the first half of this major contract. Even in the back half, Hamilton's high-end abilities will make him a solid contributor.
In a grander sense however, adding Hamilton is a statement in itself from GM Tom Fitzgerald, who has been building this franchise up from the ground. New Jersey has a terrific 1-2 punch down the middle in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, one we haven't yet seen the ceiling for due to injuries on Hischier's part and inexperience with Hughes. But a healthy Hischier and a Hughes heading into his third NHL campaign is something to get intrigued by.
What's interesting about the signing is how it sets up the Devils for the next few seasons in particular. There is going to be a major power shift in the Metropolitan Division, from Columbus already taking a downturn to Philadelphia taking some wild swings that may or not may not work out. Pittsburgh and Washington's superstars are getting into the twilights of their careers and the Pens in particular have no safety net. The Islanders are solid and the Rangers are rising, but is there a lane for the Devils to get back into the playoff picture soon? With Hamilton on board, the chances get a lot better.
And if the Devils get solid goaltending from Mackenzie Blackwood (with an assist from new signing Jonathan Bernier), the elements for a competitive team are certainly coming together in Newark.