After a memorable season for Ottawa Senators fans, late goaltending sensation Andrew Hammond was granted a new three year contract extension from the club that will annually pay him an average of $1.35 million per season. Many would believe he had earned and deserved this contract with the performance he put on, finishing the 2014-15 season with a 20-1-2 record, a 1.79 goals against average, and a .941 save percentage. That astonishing performance lifted the Senators from probably selling assets off at the trade deadline to clinching a spot in the post-season, where the Senators would meet the Montreal Canadiens in round one. Pretty phenomenal for a goaltender who was never supposed to be in the big leagues for Ottawa.
Shortly before the re-signing of Hammond, General Manager Bryan Murray was also able to ink the highly touted college free agent Matt O’Connor out of Boston University. In a recent press conference, Murray would say that O’Connor would be the starting goaltender for Ottawa’s AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators. With this, the team is in a predicament that many GMs of the NHL would love to be in. The crease of the Senators is crowded with Hammond, O’Connor, starting and experienced goaltender Craig Anderson, and the young, Swedish backup tender Robin Lehner.
This is Ottawa we’re talking about and as history shows, how can you not go on without a goaltending controversy? Ben Bishop, Ray Emery, Patrick Lalime, Martin Gerber, Dominik Hasek, and more all had their woes and goes of controversies while being the last guard of defense between the pipes in the nation’s capital. With Hammond and O’Connor locked up all eyes move to Anderson and Lehner.
There’s no way Ottawa can continue on sharing games between three tenders. One of the two latter names will be moved out this summer. Murray already exclaimed to the media that at least five or six teams have already inquired in the price of both Anderson and Lehner. Some of the teams included were the San Jose Sharks, Edmonton Oilers, and St.Louis Blues. For Ottawa’s sake, without knowing the return, who would be best suited for Ottawa to move and to keep?
Cue in the pros and cons list, please.
First off, Anderson is already a proven starting goaltender. For Ottawa, if they chose to keep him, their worries of having to rely on an inexperienced goaltender would be no where in sight as Anderson has already shown that he can help carry a team to the post-season and put on a performance that would be needed to be competitive in the playoffs. His career save percentage of .933 shows that he is a true playoff performer.
Add in the fact that Anderson only comes at the price of $4.2 million for an adequate starting goaltender, and you can’t go wrong with his contract, especially since owner Eugene Melnyk, is liking and working his team to be his own internal cap team.
Finally, with his experience he can be an asset in a coaching or mentoring scenario for both the other young goaltenders of Hammond and O’Connor who have only totaled 29 games in the NHL combined in both regular season and playoffs.
The downside of Anderson would be his age. He’s now approaching his mid 30’s and is tapped out in potential. What you see in him is what you get. In addition, Anderson has had his own struggles with consistency from year-to-year. He also seems to be slightly injury prone, especially when it comes to cutlery in his own kitchen. The most amount of games played in a season while wearing a Senators sweater is only 63. Last year he only appeared in 35 regular season games. If he can have a stellar and healthy season, none of these worries would or should matter for Ottawa.
With his young age(turns 24 in July), has plenty of room to grow and possibly become a decent goaltender in the future. He’s nearly 10 years younger than the likes of Anderson and with the right coaching and confidence building, Lehner could prove to be an adequate goaltender for Ottawa.
Lehner’s cap hit comes in at less than half of Anderson’s which is great for a team that has its own internal cap system. It isn’t a lot of room for error, but it would give Ottawa some extra room to sign the pending key restricted free agents they still have to tie up new contracts.
For Lehner, there are a few more downsides including the worries of trading this young goaltender that could be a stud for the likes of a possible dud. If you know the Ben Bishop for Cory Conacher exchange between Ottawa and the Tampa Bay Lightning, and you’ll know exactly what I’m getting at.
On top of that, Lehner hasn’t proven to be a starting goaltender. He can barely even string together two strong back to back games. His rebounds are face to palm atrocious to look at for the big man. He has many areas in his game to work on and if Ottawa wants to compete this would be a very risky road to take over for the more experienced Anderson.
Anderson undoubtedly would fetch a bigger return to help fill in some areas on the roster that are needed, such as a top four defenseman. However, if Ottawa wants to return to the post season again in 2016, their best bet wouldn’t be to rest on Lehner. It would be to go with the veteran in Anderson and let both Hammond and O’Connor grow and bloom over the next couple of years. For Murray, the decision is simple. Dial-up return calls on the Swedish netminder and make the small exchange while not having to hesitate on what inexperience in the crease will do for the Senators in the upcoming 2015-16 season.