In case you live under a rock or happened to not be trolling through Twitter last night, former BG netminder Andrew Hammond made his NHL debut in Ottawa, stopping all 11 shots he faced in 34 minutes play in relief of Robin Lehner.
It was a pretty significant accomplishment for Hammond, who exactly one year ago was patrolling the crease for the Falcons. Well, technically he was on the tail end of rehabbing a knee injury, but you get the point. Typically, undrafted college free agent signings don’t make NHL debuts in their first pro season unless they’re considered “elite.” Think Western Michigan’s Danny Dekeyser who, ironically, Hammond faced off against last night.
The funny thing is, Hammond really wasn’t supposed to make his debut last night. As an “emergency” call-up for Craig Anderson, whose wife gave birth this week, Hammond was merely a place-filler, an insurance policy for a hypothetical worst-case scenario, like Lehner becoming incapacitated by the bird flu or something like that.
You could tell head coach Paul MacLean did not want to play Hammond. If he did, he would have put him in in the first period after Lehner gave up three goals in just under three minutes to a Detroit team that has been, by and large, mediocre this season. If he likely didn’t have serious reservations, he would have put him in after the fourth goal Detroit scored in the first period.
To an extent, you can’t really blame him. When you call up a goalie on an emergency basis, it’s usually a three or four-day thing, as I said above, for a hypothetical worst-case, and because, well, you need to dress two goalies. You don’t bring them up because you plan on playing them.
But at a certain point, you can’t leave you goalie out there to choke on himself if he doesn’t have it, and MacLean finally determined he’d seen enough five minutes into the second period, when Detroit beat Lehner for the sixth time on 15 shots.
Interestingly, Lehner and MacLean exchanged words when Lehner was heading down the tunnel after being pulled. Probably because Lehner knew he wouldn’t have made it out of the first if Anderson were his back-up and didn’t like being left out there even though he clearly was not on his game, though he wouldn’t say what the dust-up was about after the game. I digress.
I didn’t see the game live, and our terrible Wi-Fi pretty much prevents me from loading any videos, so I did not see how Hammond played. He did stop all 11 shots he faced in 34 minutes, but at 6-1 and the backup goalie in, you kind of figure that Detroit stopped pushing the pace.
Regardless of the situation, it’s a perfect NHL appearance for Hammond, which can only build confidence. As he tweeted last night, entering a game already down 6-1 is not how you want to make your NHL debut. But any experience is good experience, and he can take that with him when he heads back to Binghamton, which will probably be sometime this weekend.
What does this game mean for Hammond’s future in Ottawa? Well, it’s still sort of unclear.
At best, he’s third on the goalie depth chart. And it’s going to take either a significant injury or a trade for him to move up within the next season.
When Anderson is healthy, he is one of the better goalies in the league. He had a great year last year and was, to borrow a quote from BG coach Chris Bergeron, “in the discussion” to be a member of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. At least until he started playing this year.
Despite the outward appearances of last night and his statistics this season, Lehner is still a pretty good goalie and is considered the “goalie of the future” in Ottawa. If you follow prospects and things like that, Hockey’s Future lists him as the second-best goaltending prospect in the league, and the No. 34 prospect overall. Plus, he’s two and a half years younger than Hammond.
And honestly, at this point, if one of them were to suffer a season-ending injury today, Nathan Lawson would probably get the call-up to be the permanent backup over Hammond. He’s 30-years old and at least has some NHL experience, even though it’s not a lot and it was an unmitigated disaster. Teams in a playoff hunt kind of want that. The experience, not the unmitigated disaster.
The good news for Hammond is he at least appears to have surpassed Lawson on the depth chart in Binghamton. After an abysmal start to the season, he’s improved his numbers to a 3.02 goals-against average and a .903 save percent. Not great numbers by any means, but he’s been steadily been getting better as the season progresses. He leads the B-Sens with 33 games played, to Lawson’s 26.
Also in the good news department, Hammond could crack the roster in Ottawa in the near future. Following the 2014-15 season, Anderson will be an unrestricted free agent. Since Lehner is a restricted free agent this offseason, and has a pretty near 100 percent likelihood of being resigned at a term greater than the $870,000 he currently makes, that could mean Anderson will not be brought back. I doubt he’d even want to be brought back to be a backup at that point.
Assuming the Senators re-up with Hammond, who will be a restricted free agent after 2014-15, that means he could, theoretically, challenge for the backup job in Ottawa for the 2015-16 season. Sure, that’s a ways away still, but that gives him the rest of this season plus all of next season to continue to improve his game in the AHL. At this point, he’s not going to get better sitting on Ottawa’s bench.
While this game was obviously great news for Hammond, who can now officially add “NHL goalie” to his LinkedIn profile, it’s also pretty good news for BG as a program.
In addition to adding another player to the NHL wall mural, it’s a huge recruiting tool for the Falcons. Yes, BG has had players in the NHL in the past and has guys in the NHL now, but this gives fresh memories. It give recruits a chance to relate. It gives this coaching staff a chance to tell these guys, “We coached a player who played in the NHL.”
Let’s face facts for a moment. If you’re coming to BG, chances are you aren’t on the pro hockey radar when you’re coming out of juniors. Other than Nick Eno and Jordan Samuels-Thomas, who were both 7th round picks, BG hasn’t had a player on it’s roster who was selected in the NHL Draft since Jonathan Matsumoto went in the third round in 2006. He’s only played in 13 NHL games since he went pro following the 2006-07 season.
And BG’s most famous recent-player-who-made-the-NHL Dan Sexton? He’s playing in Finland now.
That all is a kind of mean way of me to say that getting to the NHL hasn’t been able to be a huge recruiting pitch from this coaching staff in recent years. Hammond helps break that down. His story is relatable for kids coming to BG. He wasn’t a huge prospect coming out of the BCHL, and he came into a terrible situation his freshman year and posted poor numbers, which had as much to do with the team around him as it did to him being a freshman in over his head.
But he focused on improving and quickly put himself on the professional radar. That’s a story the coaching staff can sell to recruits. If you come here, work hard on improving yourself, you will get noticed by the pros.
Also, given some of the players on this roster who have legitimate NHL aspirations (Carpenter, Ryan and Friebergs, Ralfs, to name a few), that wall is starting to fall. When it does, we’ll look back at Hammond being the first to take the sledgehammer to it.