Dougie Hamilton is slated to become an unrestricted free agent July 28. Before that date, however, the 28-year-old defenseman can gauge his popularity among NHL general managers.

On June 14, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported the Carolina Hurricanes gave Hamilton permission to speak to other teams.

This is a unique opportunity for him and his agent to scour the market well before its opening date. Under the previous collective bargaining agreement, impending unrestricted free agents had a five- to seven-day interview window to speak with other clubs before the market opened. However, that was eliminated when the CBA was extended in 2020.

Hamilton is completing a six-year, $34.5 million contract that carried an annual average value of $5.75 million. The top defenseman in this summer's market, he's a skillful puck-mover and an invaluable contributor to the Hurricanes offense, finishing fourth on the team in total points (121) since 2018-19. He could receive offers exceeding $8 million annually.

Friedman suggested this creates the possibility of a sign-and-trade. If the 6'6", 229-pounder receives an offer from a rival club that the Hurricanes can't or won't match by July 28, Carolina can sign and trade him to that team and avoid losing him for nothing. Hamilton would get the benefit of an extra year on his deal in such a scenario.

The defenseman also has the chance to return to the Hurricanes if he doesn't find a better offer.

Hamilton's skills could garner plenty of interest from clubs seeking a top-two, right-side defenseman. Here's a look at the top five potential landing spots. Salary-cap space, blue-line fit and potential team interest factored into this ranking.

 

5. Winnipeg Jets

The Winnipeg Jets reached the 2018 Western Conference Final in part because of a strong defense corps. Since then, their depth has been depleted by the departures of Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot. After three consecutive early playoff exits, they could become a serious bidder for Hamilton.

On June 11, Jason Bell of the Winnipeg Free Press reported Jets head coach Paul Maurice acknowledged his club's blue line has been "thin" for the past two seasons. Their defense was bailed out too often by 2020 Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck. Bell also reported GM Kevin Cheveldayoff wouldn't get into specific names but indicated he's always looking to improve his team.

Adding Hamilton would be a big step toward that goal, giving the Jets the top-pairing right-side blueliner they have lacked since Byfuglien last played for the team in 2019. He'd also mesh well on their offensive attack with scoring forwards Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers and captain Blake Wheeler.

The Jets' payroll, however, could be a concern if Hamilton is willing to go to Winnipeg. They have $14.9 million in projected cap space next season, with restricted free agents like Andrew Copp and Neal Pionk and UFAs such as Paul Stastny and Mathieu Perreault to re-sign or replace.

Cheveldayoff has never made a big splash in the UFA pool and probably won't do so this year. Nevertheless, we can't rule out that possibility.

 

4. Philadelphia Flyers

Last fall's sudden retirement of Matt Niskanen left a big gap in the Philadelphia Flyers defense corps that contributed to their inability to reach the playoffs this season. Hampered in part by limited salary-cap space, general manager Chuck Fletcher couldn't suitably address that issue. However, he can pursue a defenseman like Hamilton.

On May 24, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jordan Hall pondered the possibility of the Flyers signing Hamilton. He noted the blueliner was ranked first in goals (42) among defensemen over the past three seasons. Over the same period, he was also 11th in plus-minus (plus-50) and 14th in total points with 121.