OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators believe they’ll have one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL rather than a goaltending controversy.
The Senators signed Craig Anderson to a three-year contract extension on Monday worth US$12.6 million, just weeks signing Robin Lehner to a three-year deal.
“I think it’s a great thing for the Ottawa Senators having two guys that we feel can be No. 1, two guys that can go in the net at any point and time and win games,” Senators assistant GM Pierre Dorion. “I think they work well with each other, they’re going to push each other and I think it’s only a good thing for our team and our fans.”
The 33-year-old Anderson has one year remaining on the four-year deal he signed with Ottawa prior to the 2011-12 season. He’ll make $4.75 million in 2015-16 and 2016-17 and then drop to $3.1 million in 2017-18.
He was relieved to have the contract completed before the start of the season.
“Taking the contract part out of the equation allows me to focus completely, 100 per cent, on my job of stopping the puck and there’s no distraction whatsoever from that part of the game,” Anderson said. “That’s exciting for me and a good feeling that I’m going to be part of the Senators organization for the next few years.”
With both Lehner and Anderson both under contract the big question will be: who is No. 1? The 23-year-old Lehner was considered Ottawa’s goaltender of the future, though Anderson’s new deal raises the question of when that future will come.
Dorion said GM Bryan Murray instructed him to tell reporters that whoever wins games will play.
Anderson anticipates Lehner will push him for playing time and said that’s a benefit for any goalie.
“Robin and I have gotten along really, really well the last few years and I’m looking forward to working with him and helping him improve,” Anderson said. “By him being a better goalie he’s going to help me become a better goalie and we’re going to be a better team because of it.”
Anderson, who put up an NHL-best .941 save percentage in the lockout-shortened 2013 season to help Ottawa make the playoffs amid injuries to Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza, dropped to .911 last year. He went 25-16-8 with a 3.00 goals-against-average and had four shutouts in 53 games.
The Sens’ starting goaltender struggled at times, but the defence in front of him also had its share of problems. Too many times Anderson was left hung out to dry, but he believes everyone has grown from the experience and expects the Senators to be a better team.
“Obviously I could have been better, but as a group we all could have been better and when everyone does a little bit better job the whole team gets a lot better, so that’s what our focus is going to be going forward,” Anderson said. “If everyone can be a little bit better, including myself, it will go a long way in the team concept of winning hockey games.”
Anderson called the current group of players the “closest group of guys that I’ve played with in my career,” and feels that will go a long way in the team’s development.
“We went through a lot of ups and downs last year and a lot of adversity,” said Anderson. “We had a lot of young guys that have really grown through those experiences and I expect them to be that much better this year for it.”
He’s been impressed by Lehner’s development both on and off the ice, he said, and has seen his younger counterpart develop into a true professional with a big heart and sees no downside to the team having two solid goaltenders.
“If the team has confidence in both their goaltenders it’s just going to help the team win at the end of the day,” he said.
Anderson, acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Brian Elliott in 2011, said he had no qualms re-signing with the Senators despite the departure of high profile players like Daniel Alfredsson and Spezza.
“Everything about the city of Ottawa has been outstanding for me and it was one of those things where I love it there and I wanted to continue and stay there and continue to call that place my home because it’s a great place to play,” said Anderson. “I wanted to stay here and continue to be a part of the organization as long as I can.”
The Senators continue to work on contract extensions for Bobby Ryan and Marc Methot, but Dorion said he doesn’t anticipate anything happening with Ryan until he returns to Ottawa and discussions are ongoing with Methot and agent Larry Kelly.
Still left on the Senators’ to-do list before the start of the regular season is the naming of a new captain after Spezza was traded to the Dallas Stars.
Spezza wore the “C” for only one year after replacing longtime captain Alfredsson