Most of the discussion surrounding the Ottawa Senators this offseason revolves around the goal crease. This shouldn’t come as a shock as the team was carried incredibly down the stretch by an undrafted 27-year-old who had never played a minute in the NHL before this season. Injuries forced the Senators to recall goaltender Andrew Hammond, who had posted a 3.51 goals against average and .898 save percentage in the American Hockey League. The rest, as they say, is history. Hammond co-led an improbable march to the playoffs alongside forward Mark Stone. He finished the regular season with a 20-1-2 record, a sparkling 1.79 GAA, and .941 save percentage.
In the playoffs, he eventually surrendered the crease to Craig Anderson, the Sens’ number one goalie at the start of the season. After spending several years as a backup, Anderson first got a chance to start in Colorado. He came to Ottawa in the 2010-11 season and has led the team’s goalies in games played since the 2011-12 campaign. The 34-year-old Anderson is signed for the next three years and makes the most money out of any goaltenders the Senators have under contract.
Coming into the year, there was debate regarding who would be the starter, as youngster Robin Lehner was seen by some as ready to take over the reins. Lehner has performed well in small stints for the team, but his GAA over 3.00 and save percentage under .915 over the past two years are not the numbers of a starting goaltender.
The most sought-after college free agent this year was Matt O’Connor. Surely the Senators wouldn’t be in the market for him given their current situation, right? Wrong. Ottawa signed the former Boston University goaltender to an entry-level deal in May. For the immediate future, O’Connor doesn’t contribute to the logjam. He is expected to spend the upcoming season in the AHL to transition to pro hockey, but signing him does increase the pressure to ship a goaltender out of town.
With all this talk about goalies in the present, it’s time to take a look back at the state of Senators’ netminders throughout the past.
The Tugnutt and Rhodes Era
There hasn’t always been volatility in the Senators’ net. From 1996-97 to 1998-99, one of either Ron Tugnutt or Damian Rhodes made all but one of the appearances for Ottawa. Over the four seasons, Tugnutt and Rhodes split the time almost 50-50, though Rhodes did come out slightly ahead. In 1998-99, Tugnutt had a 1.79 GAA and .925 save percentage; he finished fifth in Vezina Trophy voting with one of Ottawa’s best goalie performances in their history. After that superb season from Tugnutt, Rhodes was dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers.
Patrick Lalime Enters The Scene
In 1999-00, there was a new goalie in town, Patrick Lalime, who split time with Tugnutt. Despite being a sixth-round pick and struggling throughout his time in the minors, Lalime had a good season for the Senators. During the season, Tugnutt was traded to Pittsburgh for former Vezina winner Tom Barrasso, who had more playoff experience. It didn’t make enough of a difference as the Senators were eliminated in the first round by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Lalime took over the starter’s role in the following season. He flourished, finishing ninth in Vezina voting. As the starter again in 2001-02, Lalime had a great season and an even better playoffs. He was fantastic in the Senators’ first round win over the Philadelphia Flyers, stealing the series for Ottawa before losing to the Leafs in the second round. The loss was anything but Lalime’s fault; he finished with a .946 playoff save percentage.
After a great 2002-03 season that saw him finish fifth in the Vezina standings, Lalime took the Senators to the Eastern Conference Final where they fell to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils.
Lalime continued his run of solid regular season performances with another good showing in 2003-04. In the postseason, the Senators drew their rival Maple Leafs in the first round yet again. Unfortunately, despite his previous success with the Senators, this series is what he Lalime is remembered for. The Senators outplayed the Leafs throughout the series but Lalime wasn’t able to shut the door on Toronto. The exclamation point on his struggles was an awful Game 7 that saw a pair of very weak goals by Joe Nieuwendyk end up in the net, giving the Leafs another series win. Lalime was never even close to the same level of player after that season.
The Dominator Has a Cup of Coffee
Dominik Hasek is among the greatest goalies to ever play in the NHL. He will always be remembered for his time with the Buffalo Sabres, but he spent a year with the Senators following the 2004-05 lockout. Hasek was sensational with Ottawa, but a season-ending injury meant Ottawa had to rely on Ray Emery in the playoffs. The Senators ended up losing in the second round. Though Hasek offered to play for cheap to make it up to the Senators, they did not re-sign him, and the Dominator era lasted only one season.
Razor Ray Emery Fires Things Up
You could say a lot of things about Ray Emery during his time with Ottawa, but being boring was not one of them. Emery had his ups and downs in his tenure from 2006-2008. The highlight was that he was between the pipes as the Senators marched to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2006-07 season. Though his stats were never elite, he was successful in the win column and his fiery personality was a dream come true for the media. His other claim to fame was when he came out of the net to fight Martin Biron before holding his own against Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters.
The Revolving Door
After Emery, there wasn’t much stability in the crease for the Senators. Alex Auld and Brian Elliott were the main goalies for a few years with Pascal Leclaire sprinkled in, but the Senators never made it out of the first round of the playoffs until Anderson helped them get there in 2012-13. After inconsistent play from year to year in Ottawa, Elliott went on to be a good 1A goalie in St.Louis behind their deep defense core .Upon his acquisition, Anderson became the Senators’ number one goaltender. The team had a goaltending controversy on their hands regarding his backup. Alongside Lehner, 6-foot-7 Ben Bishop was also showing signs of being ready to break out. Ottawa traded him to Tampa Bay, and he has gone on to become one of the best goalies in the NHL. At the time, he wasn’t considered to be as good as Lehner long term, so the Senators felt he was the odd man out. It’s clear now that they made the wrong call, but hindsight is 20/20.
The Senators are hoping they don’t make a similar mistake when they try to solve their logjam this time around. The best of the trio has been Anderson. The Senators need to keep him around if they want to remain contenders. Though Hammond had a great run, his value around the league won’t be as high because he is still relatively unproven. This leaves Robin Lehner as the top candidate to be dealt. Teams will still believe in the potential Lehner flashed as a prospect, and though it could backfire much like the Bishop trade, they should still get better value for Lehner than they would for Hammond. This allows the Senators to give Anderson a couple more years while Hammond and O’Connor develop to take over the mantle and start another new era in the Senators’ goaltending story.