For a player who wants to give his all, the best thing for Travis Hamonic last season was doing less.
Less is relative, of course, as Hamonic did play a team-high 21:47 per game, though that’s down from 25 minutes per contest the season before – 11th most in the league. The Islanders primary shutdown defenseman eclipsed 25-minutes of ice 34 times two seasons ago, but only touched that mark six times last season.
The Islanders’ minute-eating additions of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy at the start of the 2014-15 season had a positive impact on Hamonic, who put up a career-year offensively with 33 points (five goals, 28 assists).
“He really took a step forward for me,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “He didn’t have to play 28/29 minutes the way him and Andrew MacDonald were doing that one year. It was a defense-first mentality where it always needs to be with our hockey club, but he gained more confidence with the offense. He always knew what the system was, but he executed it much better.”
Hamonic is a prototypical “heart-and-soul” player. Take a run at one of his teammates and feel the hammer come down (he had 213 hits last season). He’s worked to add consistent offense to his game, to compliment his grinding, physical style of play. Hamonic is constantly tested against the league’s top players and he returns the favor, testing their will by getting in their faces and making life in the Islanders zone as uncomfortable as possible.
Having Leddy and Boychuk assume prominent roles could have led to an uncomfortable situation for Hamonic, but the fifth-year Islander is a team-first player and praised General Manager Garth Snow’s shrewd moves.
“The way it helped the most was the competition factor,” Hamonic said. “Everyone wanted those minutes and it seemed like every night there weren’t enough minutes to go around. Part of what makes those good teams really great teams is that inner competition.”
Time on ice was the most notable difference in Hamonic’s statline from 2013-14 to 2014-15. He took two fewer shots in 2014-15 (134 to 132) and saw his PP TOI decrease by six seconds per game (1:17 average to 1:11), so neither account for the nearly double point production. Hamonic tied Leddy with 25 even strength points this season for most among Isles defensemen.
Hamonic attributed his uptick in offense to earning the coaches’ trust and being put in good situations. The numbers came back that up, as he was given more 5-on-5 offensive zone starts (51.1%) compared to 2013-14 (49.6%) and 2012-13 (45.9%) – according to Behind the Net.
Second, he credited his confidence.
“Confidence is a strange thing,” Hamonic said. “Once you have it, you start doing things on the ice that maybe can lead to those offensive situations. Especially in the second half of the season, I was playing with more confidence.”
Lastly, he credited an improved team around him, on forward and on defense.
“We had a really good D corps, the best we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Hamonic said. “That’s no knock on anyone else, just the guys we had here this year, it was a big boost for our team.
“I only had five goals in a career year, so it means I wasn’t the one putting it in the net,” Hamonic pointed out. “That means we had a lot of guys doing the goal scoring. I try to play my game as best I can. I don’t think I tried to run around and do anything that’s not a part of my skill set.”
It was a skill set the Islanders missed in their first-round series with the Washington Capitals last season, as Hamonic sat out with a grade-three tear of his left MCL, suffered in the second-to-last game of the season.
The Islanders held their own in the physically-grueling series with the Capitals, out-hitting them 317-313, but even before Lubomir Visnovsky and Calvin de Haan joined Hamonic on the sidelines, the question remained, “what would the series have looked like with a healthy Hamonic?”
“The way that I like to play hockey, it suits the playoffs,” Hamonic said. “To see guys running around, hitting each other, battling, the excitement in the crowd … it would have been nice to play those last games, certainly.”
Hamonic was recovering ahead of schedule – the injury didn’t require surgery and he speculated he was 10 days from returning after the Washington series – so he’s had nearly a full offseason to train at his cabin in Manitoba.
Hamonic is locked up through the 2019-20 season and Leddy and Boychuk each signed seven-year extensions this season. So when Hamonic comes back, it’ll be to the same defensive environment that fostered a career year.