BOSTON (CBS) — The Presidents’ Trophy and the 12-game winning streak from March are just lipstick and earrings on a pig when it comes to the Bruins’ complete 2013-14 season.
One year after they reached Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Bruins won just one round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and failed to close out the Montreal Canadiens twice after taking a 3-2 series lead.
While it’s the organization’s job to tell you that it was still a positive season, it’s an outsider’s unbiased task to tell you the season was a failure. If you’re built the way the Bruins are, and you have their type of track record, anything less than reaching the league semifinals is a lost season.
But through the clouds of disgust, a few beams of light shined through during the Bruins’ 12-game march to an early ending. One of the brightest rays of sunshine was defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who proved that his work in the regular season as Zdeno Chara’s partner on the Bruins’ top pair could translate to the postseason.
The 20-year-old Hamilton had two goals and five assists in 12 playoff games. He was also a plus-1 playing against the opponents’ best offensive threats. Bruins coach Claude Julien was clearly impressed by the second-year defenseman’s meteoric rise from a player on the perimeter of the playoff lineup in 2013 to prime-time performer in 2014.
“To me, Dougie Hamilton will be a guy that will be on a lot of people’s lips here moving forward at the rate he’s improving,” Julien said last week at the Bruins’ year-end press conference. “I think he’s going that way like he’s going to be an elite defenseman.”
Now Julien always goes to bat for his players. If your grandmother slapped on some skates and pulled on a Bruins sweater, Julien would laud her room for improvement and untapped potential that just requires the right amount of hard work. But in the case of Hamilton, Julien’s not blowing smoke up your rear. This kid is the real deal, and we saw several flashes of potential No. 1 defenseman magic during the playoffs.
Early in the postseason Hamilton acknowledged that he was more focused on his defensive game than his offense. That he was able to total seven points while working more about taking care of his own end was a tribute to his all-around capabilities.
“Yeah, it meant a lot,” Hamilton said after the season about his ability to keep his spot alongside Chara throughout the run. “I knew going into the playoffs that it was a spot that could’ve been rotated in and out. And I had to earn it. So I think I’m happy that I earned it and unfortunately we’re not playing still and all that. But I’m happy with how I played.”
The 2013-14 season wasn’t all candy and roses for Hamilton. He dealt with in-season injuries for the first time and missed 14 games with leg problems and concussion symptoms. He was scratched for four games once the Bruins had eight defensemen to pick from late in the regular season. Along the way he learned a little bit from each experience and put all his knowledge to use in order to make sure he wasn’t a postseason liability.
Young defensemen are always on a high wire. Some players at the position lose confidence or have problems reacting to adjustments the other teams make against them. It looks like Hamilton’s going to continue to benefit from the stability in the Bruins’ coaching staff and veteran core. It’ll be up to him to put the work in and make sure he’s more Duncan Keith than Michael Del Zotto over the next couple seasons.
After playing his best hockey when the stakes were highest – in the playoffs – Hamilton has to be oozing with the type of confidence that should help him return in the fall both better as a player and more comfortable as a leader.
“Yeah, I think that’s what I wanted to do, step up my game and do everything I could so I could be satisfied with myself heading into the summer with where I was. Finish where I finished at,” he said. “Now [I raise] expectations of where I want to be when I come back.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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