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January 15, 2018

Flyers' newest 'Hammer' shares more than a number with the original

The new, young “Hammer” was sitting below the bygone “Hammer” and he didn’t realize it before someone brought it to his attention. Robert “The Hammer” Hagg wears No. 8 and his Wells Fargo Arena dressing room rack is right below the Flyers’ Wall of Fame portrait of Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, another No. 8 who liked playing a particularly physical brand of hockey.

“I didn’t even notice that before,” said Hagg, the Flyers’ rookie defenseman, with a laugh as he poked his head up at the Schultz picture. “I don’t even know if you could say I’m part of the ‘Hammer’ family. I’m not skating around looking for big hits. But if I get an opportunity to take the body, I’m going to do that.

“I don’t go out chasing hits because I want hits. You have to play the game like every game is different and some games are more physical than others. You just have to deal with it. But the physical part is a big part of my game.”

Hagg is establishing himself as one of the new shut-down defensemen in the NHL. His 142 hits lead all NHL defensemen and are second in the league to Anaheim center Chris Wagner’s league-leading 146 as of Monday. What’s more is Hagg’s plus-minus is plus-14, second on the Flyers in that key stat behind only Sean Couturier’s team-high plus-16.

Hagg is listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, though he plays larger than that.

“Robert Hagg has gone far ahead of his defensive development, based upon the fact that he played three years in the American Hockey League,” Flyers’ and NBC Sports NHL color analyst Keith Jones said. “That’s been very comforting — and it should be to Flyer fans that the potential for a top-notch, shut-down defender is very close.

“To me, that was also one of the more surprising things coming into this season, because he really wasn’t registering on the map as far as I was concerned, because I hadn’t heard a whole lot about him.”

To his credit, Hagg has had to reinvent himself into a hammer. He likes doing all of the nasty work that not many other players like doing around the net.

“To be honest, this wasn’t always my style. When I was growing up, I saw myself as a skill defensemen, out there on power plays, handling the puck, and now [I'm] more a physical player,” Hagg said. “I got over here when I was 19 and I realized pretty quick that you have guys like [Shayne] Gostisbehere and [Ivan] Provorov who are really good at it.

“If I was going to get a spot on this team, I had to be more physical and had to be willing to be physical around the net. My job is to be a good defensive player and clear the front. I accept that. I take a lot of pride in trying to be a shut-down guy and getting better with each game. I’m pretty pleased so far, but as a team, we can be more consistent.

“I feel, personally, I can be more consistent. I feel I can play better. Mentally, I have to continue working on my concentration. I feel some games that I’m just off. I can’t have that. Mentally, maybe it’s not showing out there. I guess it’s a concentration and a fatigue thing. Everything is a new experience. I’m battling as hard as I can.”

Robert “The Hammer” Hagg, does it have a nice ring to it?

“I guess so if you want to put it out there,” Hagg said. “But I think I have a pretty good start wearing No. 8 and sitting right below [Schultz’s] picture.”