On Saturday, one of this years highly touted College Free Agents finally made a decision on his future. Goalie Matt O’Connor from Boston University chose to sign a two-year, entry level contract with the Ottawa Senators for $925,000 per season with the maximum signing bonus possible. The Senators were one of many teams looking to sign O’Connor. He had narrowed his choices down to four finalists, which included the Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks and of course, the Ottawa Senators. This decision makes for Ottawa’s Busy Crease Situation.
At 23 years of age, O’Connor is a bit of a late bloomer but for a goalie, that isn’t out of the ordinary. He went undrafted in previous NHL drafts but did attend the Ottawa Senators development camp back in 2011.
He’s a big goalie (6′ 5”, 204 pounds) that boasts strong athletic ability along with excellent lateral movement for a goalie of his size. Many compare him to Ben Bishop, who also went through the U.S. College route to the NHL. He will head to the Binghamton next season, the Senators AHL affiliate, to compete for a starting role there. Like most kids coming out of college, he will need time to adjust to the speed of the pro game, but make no bones about it, O’Connor intends on competing for a spot with the Senators as soon as possible. For now, he will work with Senators goalie coach, Rick Wamsley, to try and improve his skill set.
This kid looks like a promising starting option in Ottawa for years to come.
So with O’Connor now in the fold, how does this shape the Senators goalie situation? Let’s take a look at all the goalies in the Ottawa system.
Craig Anderson – The 33 year-old is signed for three more years at an annual cap hit of $4.2M.
Robin Lehner – The 23 year-old is signed for two more years at an annual cap hit of $2.225M.
Andrew Hammond – The 27 year-old is now a UFA and awaiting a new contract.
Chris Driedger – The 20 year-old has two years left on a deal paying him $775,000.
Marcus Hogberg – The 20 year-old former 3rd round pick from the 2013 NHL draft has yet to sign an NHL contract.
As it stands right now, both Lehner and Anderson are still under contract for two and three more years, respectively. If you believe the Ottawa media, the Senators are already working on a new deal for Andrew Hammond to keep him from hitting free agency on July 1st. Apparently, once Senators assistant GM, Pierre Dorion, returns from Prague later this week (he’s currently attending the World Championships) the two sides will be sitting down to see what can be done. Driedger is settling in nicely in the AHL. Hogberg is still honing his craft in the SEL.
The story going around is that once the Senators finalize a deal for Hammond, they will move one of their two other NHL goalies, either Craig Anderson or Robin Lehner. There are a few teams who are looking for starting goalies heading into next year. The Edmonton Oilers are looking for an upgrade to their woeful goalie situation. The San Jose Sharks appear ready to let Antti Niemi walk away as an unrestricted free agent. Do they trust Alex Stalock or are they looking for a starter? The Buffalo Sabres still haven’t nailed down a starter for their rebuilding club yet and there are still question marks in Arizona around Mike Smith and what their intentions are there.
Who they move is the real question here. Anderson is the better starter right now but is also 33 years old and as stated earlier, is still signed for three more years and has a bit of an injury history. Lehner is the younger, normally more desirable asset, but has been inconsistent when given the opportunity to start in Ottawa and he’s currently dealing with an injury issue of his own; a concussion that has kept him from moving forward in any type of return. Considering the upside with Lehner, he seems to be the one more teams will be inquiring about, but it really will depend on the teams that comes calling and their situation in the league. It’s hard to say what type of return either guy would bring. As mentioned, Anderson’s age works against him and Lehner’s inconsistency works against him.
At the end of the day, it’s a safe bet to say Hammond and one of either Anderson and Lehner will be sharing the crease in Ottawa next year. O’Connor will be battling Driedger for time in the AHL and Hogberg, whom the Senators are still extremely high on, will continue his development in the SEL before eventually finding his way across the pond. The Senators will be set in goal for years to come, and that’s something a lot of other teams wish they had the luxury of.
Don’t be surprised to see new Oilers GM, Peter Chiarelli, trying to make a move here to secure his goaltending with this opportunity in front of him. You have to think Bryan Murray will be a lot more receptive to dealing with his old buddy Chiarelli now that he’s no longer steering the ship of an Eastern Conference team.