By Jacob Wallman
No, but his Ottawa Senators are.
You may be asking yourself “How could that be?”, which is a justifiable reaction, as the man they call “The Hamburglar” (the name of a McDonalds character, who appears Hammond’s goalie helmet) has gone 14-0-3 since being called up from the minors by the Senators, has stopped 94.58% of the shots against him, and has backstopped Ottawa’s meteoric rise into a playoff position. However, I can confidently assign Andrew Hammond “flash in the pan” status.
First of all, his save percentage of 94.58%, while undoubtedly excellent, is not unheard of. Indeed, since February 16th (Hammond’s first start), that is third among starting goalies, and with Cory Schneider threatening to pass him at 94.29%. While being third in the league over a period of around a month is nothing to scoff at, it’s hardly enough to eliminate the possibility that he isn’t really that good.
Second, which he is playing right now, is unprecedented for him. No, not in the AHL, not in college, nor even in the British Columbia Hockey League as a teenager, did Hammond post anything over 91.7%. This year in the minors, he actually took a big step back, posting a sub-par 89.8% for Ottawa’s affiliate in Binghamton. Far from establishing a precedent for Hammond’s recent play, his previous career lends itself towards the conclusion that this has simply been a mediocre player balling (or “pucking”, in this case) out of his mind.
Third and finally, the dip has already begun. Hammond bounced back with another solid performance in his last start, but in the two prior, he allowed a total of seven goals , stopping only 88.33% of shots, all despite the fact that he only faced 7 shots from the slot (which is generally where scoring chances come from) in that time span. The Hamburglar was fun while he lasted (and indeed, it doesn’t seem to be quite over yet), and the guy even got free McDonalds for life out of it, but he is not the real deal.
However, his Ottawa Senators are, as I mentioned before, actually excellent, and they’ve been that way since before Hammond-mania hit town. Since December first (a full two-and-a-half months before Hammond’s call-up), the Senators, who just yesterday jumped into a playoff spot, have been third in the league in Even Strength Corsi For %, and sixth in the league in Even Strength Scoring Chance % (third in the league in that category since the start of the new year). This recent dominance in Scoring Chances can’t be overlooked, as they are actually the more predictive of goals than Corsi or Scoring (as waronice.com details in this fancy-shmansy statistical article: http://blog.war-on-ice.com/scoring-chances-better-than-corsi/).
This excellence has not just been limited to even strength. Since December first, they have had more Power Play Scoring Chances For than any other team and the league’s 3rd best Scoring Chances Against Per-60 Minutes on the penalty kill.
Furthermore, it’s not even as if they don’t have any options in goal other than Hammond. Though starting goalie Craig Anderson has struggled recently, he still has a solid 92.5% Save Percentage, and backup Robin Lehner, despite a career-worst season, has pulled things together in the last couple months.
“Why the sudden improvement in play?” you might ask. It’s common knowledge that sub-par teams, much like sub-par players (*eghem*Hammond*eghem*) don’t just randomly start being good, and, as it would so happen, there is a concrete reason for the Senators’ surge: on December 8th, they fired head coach Paul MacLean and replaced him with David Cameron (the former NHL player, not the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom).
The Senators have put up outstanding numbers in all areas, and, unlike Andrew Hammond, they have been doing so for a large chunk of the season, with a clear catalyst. Ottawa is absolutely making the playoffs.