Today the Ottawa Senators placed Andrew Hammond on waivers. The move has interesting tactical and also long-term strategic angles for the Hurricanes organization.
The Ottawa Senators as a model for filling the goalie position
As an aside, the Senators are 1 of a handful of teams that would be interesting to research and understand in terms of goalie development. The organization has an uncanny ability for having goalies at the ready at the AHL level and maybe even more significantly for just parachuting them straight into regular work at the NHL level with great results.
Andrew Hammond, the Hamburglar, is just 1 such example. As many probably remember, his NHL indoctrination was not a painful learning experience but rather an instant success when he chased the record for initial NHL starts with 2 goals or less and posted a stellar 11-0-1 mark before finally losing in regulation. After coming from out of nowhere, Hammond finished the 2014-15 season with an astounding 20-1-2 mark with a .941 save percentage and eye-popping 1.79 goals against average.
Mike Condon is the a huge part of the reason that Hammond is suddenly expendable. Condon started the season with the Montreal Canadiens and then had a really short stint in Pittsburgh as a short-term injury fill in after the Pens claimed him off of waivers. Once Pittsburgh had 2 healthy goalies, Ottawa obtained him in a ho-hum move for a fifth-round pick. With Craig Anderson limited in his duty because of his wife’s cancer situation, Condon has stepped in and proven capable of being an NHL starter.
Prior to that it was Robin Lehner. Interestingly, this pattern has repeated itself for the Senators. It was Hammonds incredibly 2014-15 season that made Robin Lehner expendable. Despite at 1 point being a goalie of the future in Ottawa, Hammond’s emergence led to Lehner being traded to the Buffalo Sabres at the 2015 draft for a first round draft pick. Lehner’s 2015-16 season was mostly lost to injury, but he has a .923 save percentage and 2.57 goals against average in 36 games as Buffalo’s starter for the 2016-17 season.
And arguably the goalie of all developed recently in Ottawa came prior to that in the form of Ben Bishop. Despite a decent start in the NHL in Ottawa during the 2012-13 season, he was immediately expendable and also traded. At 26 years old, Bishop’ 8-5 season, 2.45 goals against average and .922 save percentage during the 2012-13 season were trumped by the fact that the Sens also had Lehner in the system who was 5 years younger at 21 years old.
It is not at all inconceivable that Andrew Hammond will be claimed by a team struggling in terms of goaltending (Winnipeg, Dallas, ?) and seize a starting job. If that happens, it will make 3 recent former Ottawa goalies starting at the NHL level. In a league where at any given point in time there are 8-10 out of 30 teams trying to find 1 reliable starter that is pretty impressive.
If I was Ron Francis and the Carolina Hurricanes, I would be trying to learn something from how the Sens evaluate, draft, acquire and develop goalies. But maybe even more interesting is trying to understand what the team does to empower young goalies to parachute right into the NHL and instantly play at such a high level. My hunch is that a big part of this is simply showing confidence and trust in them – basically a fake it until you make it approach to using them that builds confidence. But that is a hunch and maybe something to research in more detail in the off-season.
Back to the here and now…Andrew Hammond as a waiver wire possibility
The financial and roster situation
Stepping back into the present, the question is whether the Hurricanes should and/or will put in a waiver claim for Andrew Hammond.
Earlier this season, Jaroslav Halak flew across the waiver wire as a possible free addition to bolster the Hurricanes’ goaltending. I really did not give Halak consideration simply because the $5 million on his contract through the 2017-18 season was a non-starter budget-wise. More interesting and comparable to the Hammond situation was Francis’ decision to pass on Curtis McElhinney when he was placed on waivers by Columbus. The Toronto Maple Leafs claimed McElhinney (after the Hurricanes waiver priority) and have since reasonably successfully to the tune of a 2-2 mark in 4 games with a very respectable. 2.12 goals against average and .935 save percentage). Hammond would require taking on another contract too obviously but the cost is much more manageable. 30ish games remaining this season would cost about $500,000 for the remainder of this season (note that about 2/3 of that would be recouped by the necessity of sending another player to the AHL to make room). Hammond is also signed for the 2017-18 season and due $1.5 million.
While it is not ideal to have 3 NHL goalies to pay and also for the roster, the $ amount makes it manageable in a couple ways. Short-term, the team spends less than $200,000 total to give him a try out through the 2016-17 season. If he works out or maybe even if he does not, Francis would have some options to get back to 2 goalies this summer. Worst case scenario is that Francis could buy out Lack. The effect would be that the Hurricanes would owe Lack $1 million for each of the next 2 seasons. For 2017-18, the Hurricanes total cost would actually be less than it is scheduled to be now (basically the team would pay Lack $1 million and Hammond $1.5 million versus instead just paying Lack $3 million). The Hurricanes would need to pay Lack $1 million for 2018-19. The net result is a total cost of about $700,000 (spend $200,000 in 2016-17, save $500,000 in 2017-18, spend $1 million in 2018-19). It is not ideal, but even for the budget-constrained Hurricanes the investment is pretty small if it fills a current. The situation gets even better if Francis could pull off some horse trading and include Lack in another deal and/or if Las Vegas is willing to take a player like him for a reasonable payment in terms of a draft pick or other futures.
But more importantly, evaluating Andrew Hammond as an upgrade
With the financial situation being within the realm of feasible, the bigger question is whether Francis and his scouting team consider Hammond an upgrade or maybe more significantly, enough of an upgrade. He obviously proved capable of being an outstanding NHL goalie for a period of time, but that is now 2 seasons past. Hammond’s 2015-16 season showed him to in fact be human. In 2015-16, he posted a respectable but much less impressive .914 save percentage and 2.65 goals against average, and he has mostly been a non-factor in 2016-17 with only 6 games and 4 starts and big 4.08 goals against average and .837 save percentage that is actually less than Eddie Lack’s.
The burning question for Francis and the Hurricanes’ scouts is whether he can get back to a level even remotely close to how he played in 2014-15 or if that was a 1-time wonder. Obviously, there is no point in claiming Hammond and adding another goalie if he is not capable of playing well. But the cost/risk is reasonably low as a waiver wire addition who costs nothing in trade and with a contractual commitment that is not a show-stopper.
And then there is the bigger picture and other options
A decision on Hammond starts with the evaluation of his ability to help the team, but I think it could also be an interesting indicator of just where Ron Francis sits with regard to playing for 2016-17. If you look only at the current season, I think the case for trying something/anything in net is fairly strong. But if instead Francis’ bias is to focus more out to 2017-18, the decision-making process is more complicated. Looking only at 2016-17, the decision focuses on a pretty finite comparison of Lack versus Hammond. If instead, Francis’ is more focused on 2017-18 and beyond, the number of potential options expands significantly. Francis must instead consider how much he likes Hammond and his contract relative to what he thinks the options might be this summer. And this summer could offer significant options with teams trading goalies to avoid losing them in the expansion draft, Las Vegas possibly drafting and then trading a goalie or 2 and also the usual free agency period. If Francis’ time frame more heavily considers 2017-18 and beyond, he might reach the conclusion that Hammond is a better option than Lack but still pass because he wants to at least explore bigger upgrade options this summer.
The expansion draft impact
In addition, there is a potential impact of the expansion draft. With the Hurricanes only being able to protect 1 goalie, there is the potential that the Hurricanes claim Hammond, see him play well and are rewarded only by seeing him gone to Las Vegas in June. Important to note is that the Hurricanes really would not lose much in this scenario. Remember, the team is not trading anything to get him. But it does set up a potential scenario whereby if Hammond does not play well you get stuck with him (Las Vegas does not claim him), but if he does do well you do not get to keep him (because Las Vegas then snaps him up).
Then there is the usage thing
This is whole separate article if I find the time and energy to write it, but I think to a large degree Ron Francis and Bill Peters have significantly contributed to the current problem in net. I think a key element of Ottawa’s success was the guts, courage, smarts or whatever to insert young goalies into the NHL in a way that gave them a chance to build rhythm and confidence. I think there is a reasonable case to be made that the use (or really lack of use) of backup goalies by the Canes is as much a part of it as the backup goalies themselves.
What would I do?
I would put in a claim for Andrew Hammond. Then I would quickly get him a couple games. The Hurricanes will not make it through March’s schedule riding Ward anyway. Either it works and helps or otherwise I fear the 2016-17 season was just doomed anyway. To be clear, I am NOT certain that this will work. I come at it more from a ‘how much does it cost?’ (very little), ‘what is the probability that it will help?’ (somewhat reasonable) and ‘what are the other options?’ (really not much until summer unless Francis surprises us with a big trade for 1 of the proven NHL starters who might be available).
What say you Canes fans?
Would you even consider adding a third goalie with a contract through 2017-18?
Do you like Andrew Hammond?
Would you hit the waiver button?