Critics may not have necessarily gasped in horror to see the numbers he posted in the AHL this past season, but they certainly would not have been inclined to give him a shot in the big leagues. Nevertheless, goaltender Andrew Hammond (aka : Hamburglar) was given that shot, and he made the most of it.
For a handful of Ottawa Senators fans, this year’s Stanley Cup Final would be difficult to watch knowing that Tampa Bay’s lanky netminder Ben Bishop was once part of their team. Despite what the so-called experts thought beforehand, the Lightning eliminated the heavily favoured Canadiens and Rangers to have the opportunity to make life difficult for the formidable Chicago Blackhawks. Of course, while Bishop deserves every ounce of credit he is given, the Ottawa Senators cannot afford to utter the all-too-cliché “what if”. In fact, no team can.
What the Ottawa Senators do have, though, is a goaltender who helped them sneak into the playoffs when some thought they didn’t have any business being there in the first place.
The first time I really got to see Ottawa’s rookie netminder in action was on February 26 while he and the Sens were at STAPLES Center paying the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings a visit.
The Kings, while they did struggle early in the year, entered that night riding a season-high eight-game winning streak. In addition to winning two championships in the last three years, the Kings were notorious for playing better as the season went along. On this night, they were primed to extend their win streak to nine games.
Unfortunately for the silver-and-black, though, Hammond had none of it.
That night, the one Sens fans would playfully refer to as “Hamburglar” was a wall, turning away a plethora of scoring opportunities – some of which this writer thought were sure goals. In the end, Hammond made 35 saves for the shutout while Mike Hoffman, then the league-leader in plus-minus, scored the lone goal as the Senators prevailed.
Hammond’s counterpart that evening was Jonathan Quick – a netminder who I would compare the Ottawa backstop to, even if their styles are vastly different.
Like Hammond, Quick’s arrival to the NHL was not an easy one. Despite cracking his big club’s roster at a younger age, Quick’s road to the NHL was a patient one. After finishing his collegiate career at UMass-Amherst, Quick went onto the ECHL to play for Los Angeles’s then-affiliate Reading Royals. Given the low number of ECHLers who have gone on to make permanent homes in the NHL, it was easy, while not entirely fair, to suggest that Quick would be dealt the same fate. Nevertheless, Quick excelled in Reading before graduating to the AHL with Manchester before ending a painlessly-long goaltending carousel in Los Angeles, proving that he was much more worthy than an appropriate surname.
Beginning in 2008-09, Quick was the number-one guy in the Los Angeles net but, like Hammond, struggled early in his playoff career. Still, Quick persevered, pushing his team into the playoffs in 2012 before making a historical playoff run en route to the Kings’ first Stanley Cup and, for Quick, a Conn Smythe victory.
To suggest that Hammond will have the same impact on his team and take the same route as Quick is premature, if not ludicrous, to suggest. However, if 2014-15 was any indication, the one they call “Hamburglar” will ceaselessly fight to win – and keep – the number-one spot in Ottawa. Never mind that Craig Anderson is under contract until 2018-19, this writer truly feels that Hammond has what it takes to win the job, even if the older Anderson played the majority of the Sens’ opening-round series against Montreal. Still, the scenario would not have been possible in the first place had it not been for Hammond’s unlikely heroics.
The firing of head coach Paul MacLean this past year was the sign of a new direction and his successor, Dave Cameron, has filled in admirably as the team’s new bench boss. That coupled with a promising young team which includes, just to name a few, Bobby Ryan, Erik Karlsson and Mika Zibanejad, the Senators should be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. In fact, outside of Eric Condra, who is about to enter his last season before unrestricted free agency, the vast majority of the corps is locked up long-term.
Of course, while veteran – and before Ottawa, journeyman – netminder Anderson is still regarded as team’s number-one man between the pipes, Hammond has made a name for himself this past season, posting an unthinkable record of 20-1-2 with a 1.79 GAA and an impeccable save percentage of .941. These numbers were certainly a far cry from his 7-13-2 mark with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators last season. That combined with his 3.51 GAA and his barely-modest .898 save percentage certainly didn’t have the pundits thinking he had a future, much less being the future, in Ottawa.
Two-thousand and seven seems like an eternity ago, but that is when the (modern-day) Ottawa Senators made their lone Stanley Cup Final appearance. While they didn’t win, the future remained bright in Canada’s capital. Unfortunately, the Sens couldn’t duplicate that success since then. But while the team has had to part with franchise players like Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, the latter-day roster is proving that fanfare isn’t necessary to be successful – and that goes especially for Hammond who, despite receiving a ton of attention this past season, will likely be subjected to, like Quick, being a little-publicized name who has proven that his impact should be front-and-center on everyone’s radar.
Last season, Hamburglar’s outstanding play made opposing teams grimace. This coming season, we will see if Hammond has the makings to become Ottawa’s Mayor McCheese – only hopefully with a more creative moniker.