Custom Search

Ryan Hamilton call-up: it's about time

Most of you will no doubt remember that two years ago (2009-’10) the Maple Leafs made a late-season move that was subtle but one that I thought (and posted about such at the time) sent a great message to the fan base—and more importantly, the organization’s players.

They called up Tim Brent (when there was no real compelling need) for the last game of the regular-season.

Brent had had a somewhat peripatetic career as a professional up to that point.  He was one of those guys that had been selected back in like 2001 in the second round of the NHL summer entry draft, but did not sign with Anaheim (the team that chose him).  When he went back into the draft in 2003 (I believe that was the year) he was chosen by Anaheim again—but lower than he originally had been.  He never quite broke into the Anaheim line-up.

He played ever so briefly with the Ducks and later the Penguins and Blackhawks, but primarily was toiling in the American Hockey League.  Brent had been a fine players with the St. Michael’s Majors in junior hockey, and he represented Canada at the World Juniors.  He was a skill guy, sure, but at the NHL level, was destined to be a hard-working, meat and potatoes kind of player.  He never got—or maybe never quite earned—a full-time gig in Anaheim or Pittsburgh (or Chicago).  His NHL experience totaled 18 games in five professional seasons.

Then came his move, at the age of 25, to the Leafs.  He signed with Toronto in the summer of 2009 but it was clear he was headed to the AHL—again.  Still, he worked hard that winter, and the Marlies missed him, as I recall, when he was injured part-way through that season.  When he continued to play well upon his return, the Leafs made a point of calling him up for the NHL season finale.  It was absolutely an acknowledgement from the organization that he had been a loyal “team” guy, a hard-working role player with the Marlies who had done everything the Leafs had asked him to do.

By promoting him, even for that one game, they were signaling an organizational consistency around their philosophy and  their vision—that the big club was always watching, and if someone with the Marlies was going above and beyond, they would be noticed and the Leafs would make room for them.  It was only one game, yes, but to me, the message reverberated.  And the message was clear: if you play the way we ask—hard, determined, smart—even if you aren’t the most skilled guy around, you’ll get a chance.

The next September (fall of 2010), no one expected Brent to have any shot, really, of making the Leafs.  Yet he stayed after each “cut”, and actually started the season with the big club.  He played so hard in the early going that he ended up staying stayed all season.  He proved that the "meaningless" call-up at the end of the previous season wasn't meaningless at all.  In fact, his contributions—a bit of offense, some useful penalty-killing, diligence in his own zone, face-off duty and (maybe most importantly) the willingness to sacrifice to block shots, make him a mini folk-hero here.  In fact, I wrote a piece at the end of last season, suggesting Brent deserved the old-time J.P. Bickell Award, which was awarded on occasion to a special Maple Leaf player or employee who exhibited the kind of (if I remember correctly from my childhood)  exemplary and outstanding dedication or contribution that merited such acknowledgement.  (I remember Dave Keon, for example, winning the award when I was a youngster, but it was not handed out every year…)

In any event, I was really pleased to see Ryan Hamilton called up and play against the Devils on Friday night in Jersey.  Hamilton, who will turn 27 next month, was drafted years ago (I think it was 2005, not sure) in the second round or thereabouts by Minnesota.  He was acquired in the Robbie Earl deal during the 2008-’09 season and has been a Marlie stalwart since.  Hamilton has displayed real tenacity, does his work along the boards and has enough skill that he puts up significant points at the AHL level.  Marlies coach Dallas Eakins thinks enough of him that he has been the captain of the Marlies this season.

Through all the twists and turns in his young pro career, Hamilton, believe it or not, has/had never played a single NHL game.  Not one.  And on Friday night, he was in the starting line-up for the Maple Leafs.

Every year he has had to overcome injuries, yet he keeps coming back and producing for the Leaf farm club.  All the while, I’ve been thinking (and posting occasionally here) that if the Leafs really believe in their so-called “meritocracy” system, then they should have already called up Hamilton by now.  I would always hear some reason why it wasn’t him, but my belief is:  regardless of position, if a guy deserves a call-up, do it.  Why do I say this?  Well, it sends a message that the guy who is truly most deserving of a shot at playing with the Leafs—not necessarily the young guy you obtained a big trade, or one of your high-profile draft picks, or an emergency junior call-up (like they did with Kadri two years ago in mid-season)—is the guy you will actually promote.

In any event, Hamilton finally got his shot Friday night.   He played more than 14 minutes, earned an assist on the Kadri marker, and contributed to a Leaf victory.

I don’t know what the Leaf plans are for him going forward, but I’m glad he got his shot.  He earned it.


  1. Long suffering Leafs fanMarch 24, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    Spot on Mike! Its about time and long overdo that this franchise start rewarding players who put their time in at the minor league levels. I remember speaking to a certain Leaf pick who played in Oklahoma City when Clair "The milkman" Alexander was called up to the big club. He said, moral hit an all time low for prospects. Worthier D-men who had been with the franchise were a little cheese-off, and left with the feeling that the only way to the NHL was that you had to be a high end pick or well connected. All the extra hard work to improve didn't mean a thing. Its no wonder that development was almost non-existence in Leaf-land during the Ballard era with the way the prospects were treated.

    To this day I often wonder what kind of a player Bruce Boudreau might have turned out if he was given the chance to play top minutes like an offensive player call up gets today.

  2. Like you, I remember Boudreau's time with the Leafs, Long Suffering. He had some nice offensive skills, for sure, but would likely not have been a Roger Neilson type of player, eh? (Neilson would have preferred a Doug Jarvis-type of player, though Jarvis was a third/fourth-liner with the Habs...)

    Maybe the presence of Sittler was part of it. But yes, you wonder what might have been.

  3. Alex Galchenyuk scored his first goal of the season in Sarnia's loss last night. Several members of the Leafs front office were in attendance. Destiny?

    Because of the injury we might be able to draft a center in 4-6th spot that would otherwise be 2 or 3.

  4. There will be all kinds of focus on that young man, and a few others, between now and the end of June.

    Thanks DP.

  5. All I can say is it is about time. I don't follow the Marlies obsesivly like I do the Leafs but I have read your arguments about Hamilton for awhile and he should get a shot.

    I guess this goes back to the whole Ashton call-up as well. Why wasn't Kadri called up, why wasn't Mueller given a shot? For that matter why wasn't Hamilton given a shot? Or how about Colbourne? Maybe the vaunted depth we keep hearing about isn't really all that great? I suspect that much like most teams we have a few nice, intriguing pieces down on the farm but on the whole it is much like what other teams have some good, some old, some maybes but very few if any for sure things.

    Maybe they are going to start actually doing what they preach and giving the most deserving the chance, not just the high draft choice.

  6. Thanks Willbur. I don't pretend to be anything close to an expert on the Marlies, so I couldn't say who is the best person player, other than what I've seen on occasion via some TV games. I just know that Hamilton has been a dutiful guy and a solid leader on a pretty good AHL team who in my estimation deserved at least a game before now.

    I still believe that the Ashton call-up was about making it look like the Leafs did something smart at the deadline, Willbur. But that aside, I don't buy the meritocracy thing either- at least not the way the Leafs have handled things the past couple of seasons.

  7. Long suffering Leafs fanMarch 24, 2012 at 6:06 PM

    Mike, I remember reading something odd when Mark Kirton was traded to Detroit. Kirton said that GM Larry Skinner asked him upon his arrival if there was any other good young players with skill and character that he played with on the farm. He said, "Matter of fact yes, Bruce Boudreau!" To which Mr. Skinner replied, "No way that's going to happen, we already have enough troublemakers on this team!" Kirton went on to say that he was shock to hear Mr. Skinner caustic reply about Boudreau when you consider how easy going and good nature Gabby is. It also answer his question of why the Leafs never gave Boudreau an legit chance of sticking with the Leafs when other less gifted players were given every opportunity. In his mind Bruce "Gabby" Boudreau had been "black ball" by Leafs management for whatever he and Randy Carlyle did during the 78 playoffs. Something else to chew on to why Carlyle and Ferguson was traded for a long-in-the tooth veteran name Dave!

    Hey Willbur, did you get a chance to hear Rick Dudley's interview with The fan 590 Jeff Blair on Friday?? Mr. Dudley said that he believe's in his mind, as early as next year that Colbourne will be nothing less than a solid number two center for the Leafs. It was also interesting to hear when asked if the Leafs had any other strong prospect? Mr. Dudley said as in Tampa and Chicago, there is a strong nucleus: mentioning forwards Kadri, Frattin, Ashton and D-men Gardnier, Blacker, Holzer along with Kessel, Lupul, Grabovski, Gunnarsson and Phanuef. What struck me was that he did not include Luke Schenn. Makes me wonder if he will be a Leaf after the season.

  8. It was indeed peculiar that Carlyle, with so much legit potential, was dealt for a past-his-prime Burrows in the late '70s. Carlyle, Leaf fans remember, went on to win a Norris Trophy in Pittsburgh.

    As for Boudreau being a trouble-maker, I don't doubt he was not as dedicated as he should have been to conditioning and the defensive side of his game. But in terms of character issues, I wasn't aware of any such perception at the time, either. Who knows what the Red Wings had heard?

    As for Dudley, I will be posting on the Leafs p.r. efforts to make things "look good" for the future, shortly.

    Thanks Long Suffering....

  9. I haven't heard the whole interview but I did read the summary. Given his history at identifying players I would tend to give his word some serious weight. The core of guys does indeed seem good but still no elite guys. So far Dudley doesn't strike me as a guy who sugar coats things but then again what is he going to say? Look bottom line is the Leafs do have some decent pieces moving forward and all succesful teams do have depth. They still need to find the number one undisputed guy to lead this franchise. Maybe by bottoming out this year and getting a top three pick (as long as Burke doesn't trade it, which he will) we can finally land the franchise cornerstone. Lately I have been reading up on the draft and I have read a couple of scouts, not all but some describe the one centerman as a potential Malkin. Now wouldn't he look very nice and really put this team over the top?

    When Colbourne was called up earlier I was impressed, the first 4 games or so he was playing top 2 line minutes as a replacement for Connolly (who big shock was injured) I believe and scored a point a game. It was only in the last 5 games of his call-up that he started to struggle after being placed on the 4th line. I do think he could be a good player. BTW that is one thing about Carlyle I like, his often stated belief that you don't bring up a top 6 player to play 4th line minutes. An offensive player has to play in offensive situations.

    That is one big beef I had with Wilson and still do with Burke. They don't put players in situations whre they will be the most effective. They ask guys to do things they never have and then are constantly suprised by the lack of results.

    Bottom line, the team has a lot of work this summer and I think they are at least three years away from being even a playoff team.

  10. Well said, Willbur. Thanks. Big summer, for sure.