Andrew Hammond. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Andrew Hammond's new contract gives him nice job security but, with such a small cap hit, the risk for Ottawa is quite minimal.
Is Andrew Hammond a far richer man today than he ever imagined he'd be, even three months ago? Certainly.
But can we score May 20, 2015 as a big victory for the Ottawa Senators? Absolutely.
On Tuesday Ottawa announced the re-signing of pending unrestricted free agent goaltender Hammond, 27, to a three-year, $4.05-million contract. That amounts to a $1.35-million cap hit.
'The Hamburgler' went absolutely, er, bananas in the final months of the 2014-15 regular season, going 20-1-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average and .941 save percentage. Not bad for a guy who never posted better than a 2.47 GAA and .917 SP in his college days with Bowling Green or his AHL days with Binghamton. He almost singlehandedly delivered Ottawa to the playoffs. And yet, the concerns at season's end were whether the sample size was too small to justify a big free agent deal and whether his insanely good play priced him out of Kanata.
Well, we can toss any of those concerns out the window now. Hammond's $1.35-million AAV will rank him 34th among NHL goalies signed for 2015-16. The Sens did not overpay at all. He was the best starter in the game for two months, but he'll make backup money for the next three-seasons. With such low financial risk, the three-year term isn't a big deal. This contract is a coup for GM Bryan Murray and the Sens.
From Hammond's perspective, it's simultaneously heartening and disheartening. It's a great story to see a young man with a $105,000 AHL salary and $720,000 NHL salary become a millionaire on a one-way deal. Hammond, who posted a GAA of 300.00 in an AHL game last October, changed his life.
At the same time, while the term and security are nice, the cap hit is surprisingly small. It would've been interesting to see what he could've gotten from a goalie-starved team like Edmonton, San Jose or Buffalo on the open market. Something like $2 million wouldn't have been outrageous.
So what does the deal mean for the Senators' goaltending future? Keep in mind they also signed coveted college free agent Matt O'Connor this month. That packs the crease with O'Connor, Hammond, Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner. O'Connor has two years on his deal, Hammond three, Anderson three more at $4.2 million per and Lehner two more at $2.225 million per. Murray can't tie more than $7 million into three goaltenders, not with an absolutely crucial class of restricted free agents to sign this summer. Forwards Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Mika Zibanejad, Alex Chiasson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau all need new deals.
Translation: one of Lehner or Anderson is a goner. It obviously won't be the freshly signed O'Connor or Hammond. Lehner and Anderson lack no-trade clauses, and each is a reasonably attractive trade target in his own right. Anderson might be open to a move considering how publicly emotional he was about sitting for Hammond during the playoff push. Lehner is cheaper but less proven. A logical destination for either goalie would be Buffalo, as the Sabres have only Chad Johnson signed in net for next season and their GM, Tim Murray, has the obvious connection to Ottawa as Bryan Murray's nephew and former right-hand man.
It'll be interesting to see which goalie Ottawa decides to move. Dealing Anderson makes more sense financially as it frees up space for the RFAs, and it's also a vote of confidence toward Hammond. It would leave a relatively unproven tandem of Hammond and Lehner to man the crease, however. And, we can't forget, Anderson took the starting gig back from Hammond during the first round of the playoffs against Montreal. The Sens exceeded expectations in 2014-15 and look like they can make the big dance again next season, so they may roll with Hammond and Anderson to stay more competitive. That Hammond will make backup money, not starter's money, points to Anderson staying and Lehner going.
What we do know for now: the Hammond deal offers lots to read between the lines. It all but guarantees one Ottawa goalie gets shipped out, and it should also put a scare in UFA goalies Devan Dubnyk, Antti Niemi and Karri Ramo. That's all Hammond got?
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin