Have the Senators Gone From a Goalie Graveyard to a Goalie Factory?

How did this happen exactly? For years Ottawa was a goalie graveyard where once promising starters went to die. As shocking as it seems to Ottawa fans, there was a time when both Martin Gerber and Pascal Leclaire were highly touted goaltenders. Remember, it was Martin Gerber who started the first two games in Carolina’s playoff run of 2006, only to be replaced by a kid from the Edmonton Suburbs, who played pretty well, I hear. Then there was Dominic Hasek, of which the less said of his Ottawa tenure the better.

Enter Craig Anderson

However, since the 2010-2011 season when Ottawa started a total of six different goalies throughout the season, goal-tending has become a position of strength for the Senators. Much of credit goes to Craig Anderson whom Ottawa acquired for Brian Elliott in February of 2011. Since then, Anderson has played over 200 regular season and playoff games for Ottawa and has put up a .920 SV% and a 2.59 GAA. These numbers, combined with the fact that the defence corps playing in front of him has generally been pretty poor at limiting opposition shots, make Anderson arguably the best goalie to ever put on a Senator’s sweater.

Then this happened:

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Combined with an inability to properly prepare chicken, Anderson missed large sections of 2011-2012 season and the lock-out shortened 2013 season. It was Anderson’s chicken mishap that prompted Sen’s GM Bryan Murray to get Ben Bishop from the Blues and, together with prospect Robin Lehner, they manager to keep Ottawa in the playoffs over the course of both seasons. Ultimately, Anderson’s return from his high ankle sprain in March of 2013 forced Ottawa to deal one of their three (three!) NHL caliber goalies.

The Rise of Andrew Hammond

Now, two years later, Ottawa once again has the same problem other teams would love to have, thanks to another Anderson hand injury. After both of Ottawa’s goalie went down with injuries in February, Ottawa turned to Binghampton Senator’s goalie Andrew “The Hamburgler” Hammond and did he ever surprise. After putting up a sub-900 SV% in Bingo, Hammond went 20-1-2 with a .941% to lead Ottawa to the playoffs and while Anderson has since returned and taken back over the starters job, Ottawa once again has three (three!) NHL caliber goalies.

There is, however, one small problem for Ottawa and a gigantic opportunity for Hammond. He is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st and is poised to cash in on his miracle run. Ottawa, however, already has $6.5 million invested in Anderson and Lehner for next season. While the ideal solution for the Sens is probably to sign Hammond to a two-way deal and let him prove his run wasn’t a fluke in Binghampton, the Hamburgler has probably played well enough to earn a one-way deal in the range of $1.5 to 2 million a year from some team in the league.

What is Bryan Murray to Do?

So what does Ottawa do? Since three goalies earning $8 million plus on a budget team is not an option, someone has to go. The tempting option is to resign Hammond and trade either Anderson or Lehner. The other alternative is to wave goodbye to Hammond and let him walk for nothing. The latter option, despite possible unhappiness among the fan base, is Ottawa’s best course of action.

While Anderson’s playoff performance may well boost his value on the trade market, the fact remains that the market for goalies is rather weak. With Stanley Cup winner Anti Niemi headlining the class of UFAs this summer and with Jimmy Howard, Cam Ward, Jonathan Bernier, James Reimer and Ryan Miller all possibly on the trade block, the possible return for an Anderson deal is rather limited. Sure, the Oilers need a starter, but they will have their pick and Ottawa certainly won’t get value for Anderson. Additionally, Anderson is a known commodity and will provide average to above average goaltending for a young Ottawa team as it develops.

Similarly, Lehner wouldn’t fetch much of a return given that he is not a proven NHL starter and teams has historically been reluctant to pay for potential. While Ottawa fans may claim that Hammon played much better than Lehner (which is true), it is important to remember that Lehner is only 23 and has yet to reach his potential. If you look at his numbers compared to other starting goalies in the league when they were his age, Lehner compare quite favorably, even against stars like Carey Price. Already over 86 career NHL games, Lehner has kept a league average .914 SV%, numbers which should only improve with more playing time. Barring a career threatening injury or serious and unexpected regression, Lehner is a future above average starter in the NHL.

Also, Lehner can do this:

Alternatively, there is no guarantee that Andrew Hammond is even an NHL caliber starter. Simply put, 24 games is not an adequate sample size for a goalie. Even one full season isn’t always enough. Remember Jim Carey? Or Andrew Raycroft? Even Ben Scrivens put up good numbers over 40 games last season, but Edmonton has proven the problem in choosing your starting goalie based on one season of excellent play. AHL numbers often provide a good indicator of ability and future potential and Hammond’s AHL numbers are not good. In 73 career games over the past two years he has a barely managed to have an above .900 SV% and has a GAA of above 3. Furthermore, in his career, Hammond’s highest SV% is .917 and that came in his final season of college. Any objective look at Hammond’s career suggest his amazing 24 game run is a fluke. A fluke that will earn him a lot of money, but not a risk that budget team like Ottawa can afford.

So Ottawa needs to let the Hamburgler go his own way. It certainly will be difficult to do so but if Montreal can trade 2010 playoff hero Jaro Halak, then Murray and co. can let Hammond go. Besides,with Anderson managing to steal two (and almost three games) from under Montreal’s nose, Hammond’s departure will be a little easier to take.