Andrew Hammond and the Ottawa Senators have begun preliminary talks aimed at getting the goaltender under contract before he hits unrestricted free agency July 1. Chances are, though, Hammond will have to settle for less than he would if he were a forward or defenseman.
Andrew Hammond is a 27-year-old goaltender who has never been, and likely will never be, this close to grabbing the brass ring. He’s coming off a mind-boggling season in which he led the Ottawa Senators charge to the playoffs. And in doing so, helped make the franchise millions of dollars in playoff revenues with three playoff home dates it otherwise would have never seen.
If Hammond were not a goaltender, he’d probably be able to walk into GM Bryan Murray’s office and demand a five-year deal worth a lot of money. The Senators would, of course, acquiesce because you can’t turn away an asset that has exhibited that kind of potential. If Hammond had scored 25 goals for the Senators instead of going 20-1-2 with a .941 save percentage, he’d likely do exactly that. And if Murray were unwilling to pay it, Hammond would easily find another team that would.
Instead, if the Senators GM doesn’t like what Hammond is demanding, he can simply thank The Hamburgler for his work and send him on his way. After all, they have Craig Anderson, who mopped up for Hammond after he faltered in the playoffs, under contract for three more seasons and Robin Lehner, who is a very good young goalie when he’s not injured, for another two. And they just happen to be in the running for Boston University standout Matt O’Connor. According to Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, the two sides have had extremely preliminary meetings and feel no immediate sense of urgency to get a deal done.
The same scenario faces Devan Dubnyk in Minnesota, another goaltender who saved his team’s season and was a major reason why it’s playing in the post-season. Common sense would dictate that the Wild would reward Dubnyk handsomely for his work this season with a long-term deal.
But this is the goaltending profession we’re talking about here. And there are a couple of things about it that make it very, very unwise for teams to make long-term, big-money commitments to players who have accomplished a lot in a very short time. To be sure, if you get a superstar of the ilk of Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist, you absolutely lock him up long term and build your franchise around him.
But beyond that, everyone just seems to be guessing with goaltenders these days. There’s little evidence to suggest in either Hammond’s or Dubnyk’s body of work that the goalie in question can sustain this level of play. Prior to joining the Senators after Lehner received a concussion, Hammond wasn’t even playing that well in the AHL this past season. Then he faltered during the playoffs. Dubnyk was sitting at home during the playoffs a year ago after a mediocre AHL stint and like Hammond, his work in the playoffs hasn’t been nearly as good as it was during the regular season. At a time of year when most goalies see their save percentages rise, Dubnyk’s has gone from .936 to .907 and his save percentage in the second round, entering tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks is .892.
It also doesn’t help either one that the likes of Antti Niemi, Karri Ramo, Jhonas Enroth and Anders Lindback are set to join them in the UFA market this summer. When a skater has a big season in a contract year, the laws of supply and demand almost always work in their favor. For goaltenders, the opposite always seems to be the case. Skill players are at a premium and seem to be far more difficult to find, but if you’re looking for a goalie, it seems everyone’s organization is stocked with someone with promise looking for his opportunity. Look at the Detroit Red Wings for example. They went into the season with a tandem of Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson in goal, but by the playoffs had turned to Petr Mrazek. If not for the heroics of minor leaguer Scott Darling, the Chicago Blackhawks might not have made it out of the first round.
What will likely happen is Hammond will get a two-year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million to $2 million and that will be fair for all sides. How Hammond will perform under that contract and the spotlight of playing in the NHL is anyone’s guess. The Senators will then, in turn, likely deal Lehner to a team looking for goaltending help and, in their worst nightmares, he could become the next Ben Bishop. Or he could falter badly and find himself back in the AHL. Nobody really knows.
Which is exactly why Hammond and Dubnyk will get NHL contracts next season, and good ones, but not great ones. And they won’t be cashing in on them the way some think they might.