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Hammond, Senators agree on three-year contract

by Chris Stevenson

OTTAWA -- Goaltender Andrew Hammond, whose remarkable late-season run helped the Ottawa Senators to a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, was rewarded Wednesday with a three-year, $4.05 million contract.

Now the Senators will have to figure out what to do with a crowded crease with Hammond, Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner all under contract for next season.

Senators general manager Bryan Murray said at the end of the season if Hammond signed a contract with the Senators, Anderson or Lehner would be traded to make room for him.

Hammond, whose contract carries an average annual value of $1.35 million, said Wednesday he didn't receive any indication from the Senators what was going to happen in terms of trading a goaltender.

"No, they didn't make any guarantees like that," he said. "It's something that I'm just going to go into camp with the approach that I'm trying to play as many games as I can this year and trying to earn as many starts as I can."

Senators assistant general manager Pierre Dorion said signing Hammond was a priority and the next step in clarifying the goaltending situation will unfold in due time.

"Bryan talked about it in his year-end press conference. If and when we got Andrew Hammond signed, we would look at possibly trading one of our other goalies," Dorion said. "There's no timeline on it. Just signing Andrew today, we haven't really explored the trade market."

Dorion said it's possible the Senators could go into training camp with all three goaltenders. Lehner sustained a concussion in February which ended his season. Dorion said there was no update on his condition, but he believed Lehner had begun working out.

Hammond earned his contract by going 20-1-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average and .941 save percentage after he was called up from the American Hockey League in February following injuries to Anderson (bruised hand) and Lehner.

Nicknamed "The Hamburglar" during his playing days at Bowling Green State University, he became an NHL sensation and his play was the biggest reason the Senators, who were 14 points out of a playoff spot on Feb. 10, rallied to earn the first wild card in the Eastern Conference.

"We don't get in the playoffs if it's not for Andrew Hammond," Dorion said. "We don't need to sugarcoat it. He was a big part of us making this playoff push. Robin was injured, but he pushed Craig. When you have a healthy competition between goalies, it's only the best thing for your team."

While it might have been a small sample size (24 regular-season and two playoff games), Dorion said the Senators saw enough to convince them Hammond is an NHL goaltender.

"For us, Andrew came in and under difficult conditions showed that he was an NHL goalie," Dorion said, "and he showed through his ability to win pretty much every game he played in, whether it was a small sample size or not, he showed the ability that he could face pressure and he could win big games.

"For that, we thought that we should reward him with an NHL contract. Whether it was for one, two or three years, we still feel that we have this goalie under contract for the next three years and that was a good thing to do as an organization."

Hammond started the Eastern Conference First Round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens, but was replaced by Anderson after losing the first two games. The Senators lost the best-of-7 series 4-2.

Hammond gave up seven goals in the two losses to Montreal and said he got caught up in the excitement of playing at Bell Centre.

"I felt like I was so into playing in that environment in Montreal that I think I got caught up in the emotion of the game a little bit and it just took away from my game," he said. "It wasn't a distraction or anything. I think it was just almost I was having too much fun playing that it kind of, I guess, made some of my movements speed up, and ultimately as a goaltender that'll open up holes and take you out of rhythm a little bit. I think that was really the main reason why the playoffs unfolded the way they did."

It's been a remarkable rise for Hammond, 27, who as signed as a free agent in 2013 by the Senators after his collegiate career.

Playing for the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League in December, Hammond was pulled after giving up three goals in the first 36 seconds of a game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Five months later, he's got a three-year, one-way contract in the NHL.

"Obviously, from how my season was going in the first half, it's not something I probably envisioned," Hammond said, "but the great thing about sports and hockey in particular is anything can happen, and I was given a chance to kind of hit the refresh button a little bit when I got called up and I was able to play some of my best hockey down the stretch there."

Hammond could have been an unrestricted free agent July 1, but said it was a priority to stay with the Senators.

"Me and my wife really loved Ottawa, everything about it," he said. "It was the place that we always wanted to be and ultimately we knew it was going to come down to the dollars and cents.

"The three-year deal was pretty important to me just to give me a little bit more security and kind of just start moving forward to building a career out of it more than anything."

Hammond said he knows the expectations will change now and he's prepared to deal with them.

"It's something I feel like I have to prove myself every day," he said. "Whether that's to meet the expectations of others, I don't know. I don't think I can worry about meeting the expectations of others too much. I know I put extremely high expectations on my own shoulders, and it's up to me to match those, and I feel like if I'm able to be happy with my play, myself, everything else will take care of itself."

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