• By: Ron Guillet

Senators Must Remember Lehner is the Goaltender of the Future

Photo courtesy Losangeles.cbslocal.com

Andrew Hammond’s stellar play between the pipes has injected life into the Ottawa Senators’ playoff hopes, but it’s important the organization remembers that Robin Lehner is their man moving forward.

Not Hammond, nor Craig Anderson. At the time of writing this article, “The Hamburglar” has a sterling .938 save percentage with two shutouts in 17 games. If he were a known commodity making his mark in his early twenties, he’d be lauded as the goaltender of the future without question. But Hammond isn’t that goaltender.

The Surrey, BC native is 27 years old and has had somewhat of an uneven tenure with the Binghamton Senators in the American Hockey League. In

Photo courtesy of Nbcsports.com
Photo courtesy of Nbcsports.com

his first pro season he registered a decent .910 save percentage with a single shutout. Before being called up this season, Hammond posted an underwhelming .898 save percentage in 25 games despite earning two shutouts.

Prior to that, Hammond plied his trade with Bowling Green State University over a span of four years—from 22 to 25 years old. His numbers followed a similar pattern in that he was a difficult goaltender to gauge. His save percentage, from his first to his last year, fluctuated from .880 to .915 to .903 to .917. And when he played for the Vernon Vipers in the British Columbia Hockey League for two years prior to that, he registered an .899 save percentage in his rookie campaign followed by a .912 sophomore campaign.

The intention here isn’t to lambaste Hammond for an inconsistent career. It goes without saying that most reasonable hockey minds are well aware of the uncertainty surrounding the Senators goaltender. The most intriguing part of this Cinderella story is how Ottawa will deal with the situation heading into next season. Do they start with Anderson and Lehner again or should they ship out the former for assets while he remains a valuable trading chip? And if that happens, are the Senators comfortable with Lehner and Hammond taking the reins between the pipes? If Lehner falters, is Hammond a reliable safety net over the course of an 82-game campaign?

These are questions the Senators will have to address in the off-season, but they are crucial ones that will likely impact the immediate success of their rebuild. Riding Hammond’s hot streak is a logical strategy given the Senators renewed playoff hopes, but it’s important they remember Lehner’s pedigree and young age moving forward.

Lehner is four years younger than Hammond at 23 and boasts an impressive stint with the Binghamton Senators. His worst campaign came in 2011-12 when he posted a .907 save percentage in 40 games. He followed that up with a .938 in 31 games, dominating the AHL and earning a spot with Ottawa in which he posted a .936 in 12 games. When he earned a full-time position with the team, he put up a respectable .913 in 36 games. This season, however, Lehner’s play has dipped to an underwhelming level. His .905 in 25 games is well below average for a goaltender in the NHL, but it’s no reason for the Senators to question his ability moving forward.

After all, Lehner’s career .914 save percentage in 86 NHL games is nothing to sneeze at, and considering his age he’s worth an extended look—he’s locked up for two more years after this season. Hammond, meanwhile, is a restricted free agent this summer but he won’t warrant serious dollars after a brief stint in the big league. Then there’s Anderson, who’s signed through the 2017-18 season and may generate considerable interest in the off-season.

No matter what Ottawa decides in regards to their goaltending carousel, it is imperative Lehner remains a top priority for the Senators to reap the potential long-term gains. Considering Hammond’s play of late, however, it is entirely logical to ride his hot streak and hopefully earn a spot in the playoffs. And if they make it, continue with Hammond and let the goaltender continue to make a name for himself. Pertaining to Lehner, both from his perspective and the team’s, it’s all about next season.