I know what you’re thinking. Andrew Hammond? Really? Other than the “Hamburglar” moniker, Hammond isn’t exactly a household name to NHL fans. In fact, Hammond hasn’t made an NHL appearance since 2017-18 and has just seven total appearances over the past four seasons. It’s been quite a while since Hammond heroically stole the Ottawa net and led the Senators to the postseason in 2014-15.
Yet, there’s a good case to be made that Hammond is the best available free agent goalie and there is no arguing that there isn’t still a considerable need for net depth around the NHL. The free agent market seems to be on hold right now as the league figures out its plans for this season, but when it picks back up Hammond is likely to be in demand.
Hammond, 32, is built for the 2020-21 season. The veteran goaltender can likely be slipped through waivers if his signing team so desires, but if injury spurns his recall, Hammond has both the NHL experience to jump into a backup role and has been a workhorse in the AHL for several years, ready for a condensed schedule and frequent appearances if need be. Hammond made 33 appearances for the Rochester Americans in the shortened 2019-20 season, the twelfth-most in the AHL. Hammond is also one of just seven netminders to have made 33+ appearances in each of the past two AHL seasons.
Among qualifying goaltenders, Hammond’s 2.53 GAA this past season ranked 13th in the AHL. It’s a pretty good ranking on its own, but consider that only one goalie with a better GAA played more minutes than Hammond last year and it puts his performance in perspective given his workload. Hammond’s .908 save percentage, while not among the AHL’s best, is a good number and has held steady for two seasons now as a stark improvement versus his AHL numbers earlier in his career.
When last Hammond was seen in the NHL, he was actually shocking many with his strong play as an emergency postseason call-up for the Colorado Avalanche in 2017-18. Hammond played three playoff games after making just one regular season appearance, yet posted a stellar .933 save percentage with a 2.62 GAA. While a small sample size, if this is what Hammond can do at the NHL level then he is even more valuable than it seems. For a larger sample size, look back at the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons with Ottawa, the only time in his career that Hammond was given a regular NHL role. In 48 games over two years, Hammond recorded an outstanding .927 save percentage and 2.21 GAA, as well as a .705 quality start percentage. Admittedly, that was five years ago now, but Hammond’s NHL numbers speak for themselves.
Still, Hammond can’t be the best free agent goalie option available, can he? Well, only four UFA keepers saw NHL action last season: Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard, Ryan Miller, and Cory Schneider. Anderson, Howard, and Miller each made over 20 appearances last season, but didn’t exactly inspire their respective teams to give them any more play time than necessary. Of the 57 NHL goalies who made at least 20 appearances last year, Howard finished dead last in both save percentage and goals against average; Anderson ranked 47th and 55th and Miller came in at 37th and 47th, respectively. These poor performances marked a steep drop-off for Howard and Miller, while this is the third year in a row with ugly numbers for Anderson. Age is also a troubling number shared by all; Anderson and Miller are 39 and Howard is 36. Given their ages and stats, Anderson and Howard appear done. Miller may have enough left for one more run, but his value as a free agent is limited given his desire to play only with a team near his home in Southern California. As for Schneider, he played in 13 games and posted numbers comparable to Howard’s. Schneider, 34, has faced problems with injuries and inconsistency for several years now. He is nothing more than a dart throw at this point – and according to some sources there is a handshake agreement between he and the New York Islanders, who appear willing to toss that dart at a potential veteran No. 3. Even if Schneider is available or if Miller is willing to move on from the Anaheim Ducks, do any of these aging options inspire more hope than an established AHL starter with strong NHL numbers in Hammond?
There is no shortage of teams in need of a goalie before the 2020-21 season, including the aforementioned Ducks and Islanders. Anaheim especially currently counts just starter John Gibson and presumptive backup Anthony Stolarz as NHL options, with only recent draft picks as their other signed goalies. While Stolarz is younger than Hammond and has more recent NHL experience, the two share similar career AHL stats with Hammond having an edge in the NHL. Hammond could prove to be an upgrade over Stolarz as Gibson’s backup, if not just a sold third-string option at a shallow position. There is also the matter of the impending Expansion Draft and Anaheim needing a goalie signed beyond this season to expose, making Hammond an even more likely fit. In New York, depth is an extreme concern beyond the NHL tandem, with only one other goalie signed in young Jakub Skarek. Even if the Islanders do sign Schneider, it may not hurt to add Hammond as well given Schneider’s injury concerns and not wanting to rush Skarek into a workhorse AHL role.
Elsewhere, Hammond could compete for an NHL role with the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blackhawks have maintained that they are content with an unproven trio of Collin Delia, Malcolm Subban, and Kevin Lankinen competing for both NHL spots as they begin a rebuild. However, things could turn south quickly with that group and an experienced goaltender in Hammond could be valuable. Even if Hammond doesn’t make the ’Hawks out of camp, the team could use some dependability in their depth chart. Similarly, the Penguins claim that they are happy to go into next season with Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith in net. Jarry put up great numbers last season, but has never had a true starter’s workload in the NHL. DeSmith meanwhile did not see any NHL action last season and was outplayed in the AHL by Hammond. The Penguins have okay depth, including UFA addition Maxime Lagace, but could alleviate the risk of their untested NHL tandem or at the very least upgrade at No. 3 with Hammond.
Options where Hammond would only be asked to serve in a third-string role (at the outset), but where that could still turn into a key position, include the Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, or a return to an old home with the Colorado Avalanche. The Oilers and Sharks impressed no one with their off-season changes in net; Edmonton struck out with top free agents and re-signed Mike Smith to play alongside Mikko Koskinen, while San Jose decided the way to help severely struggling starter Martin Jones was to acquire an equally struggling netminder in Devan Dubnyk. Both teams have decent depth in the minors and may be content to lean on young options if their NHL tandem fails, but if either one hopes to be a contender this season they need a No. 3 who can push for top level opportunity and Hammond could fit the bill. At this point in time, it’s anyone’s guess whether any of Smith, Koskinen, Jones, or Dubnyk are actually better goaltenders than Hammond. As for Vancouver and Colorado, both teams are set with a solid duo in the NHL, but injuries are a concern and each is sorely lacking a proven option in the AHL. For two top contenders from this past season, depth is key and Hammond would look awfully nice as a third-string fallback.
The contract question for Hammond is not so much NHL salary, but AHL salary. Given the cap crunch climate, Hammond is not getting any more than the $700K league minimum salary, even if he could work his way into a regular NHL role worth far more. The question is whether he can get a one-way deal, as he did last year with the Buffalo Sabres, and have that NHL salary guaranteed in the minors or if he will have to settle for a two-way deal, as he did two years ago with the Minnesota Wild. The cap implications are the same and Hammond’s decision will likely come down to fit and opportunity over salary anyhow, so the signing team’s current financial status will likely determine one-way versus two-way. Given the potential competition for his services though, Hammond may have a number of good options and a one-way offer could be the deciding factor.
As alluded to with the Ducks, don’t rule out a two-year deal either. While a one-year term is more likely, teams will be cognizant of their Expansion Draft requirements and how training camp waivers could change the status quo as well, which could lead to Hammond landing some two-year offers to serve as Kraken bait next summer.