Craig Anderson played six games in 2020-21. By all accounts, it looked like his career was over.
He played just four regular-season games for the Washington Capitals and no games for nearly a two-month stretch from February to April. He saved the day when injuries plagued the Caps' crease to in the playoffs with a win in Game 1 against Boston before dropping the second game.
But the 40-year-old native from Park Ridge, Il. didn't want to go out that way, quietly. Anderson wanted to prove he still could be valuable. And while goaltending has been a mostly mixed-bag for the Sabres this season, Anderson has been a bright spot.
Buffalo signed Anderson and Aaron Dell to be the team's goaltending duo at the start of the season, but the team has iced six netminders throughout the year. Dell, Malcolm Subban, Dustin Tokarski, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Michael Houser have all gotten into game action throughout the campaign, with Tokarski leading the way with 20 games played. Anderson missed significant time with an injury, but has looked good as of late with four wins in the past five games.
"Anderson really stabilizes things for us and it's been really significant over the past few weeks," coach Don Granato said after Lehner helped the Sabres beat Toronto in the Heritage Classic in Hamilton, Ont on Sunday.
It's hard to put up big numbers when you're playing on a team that was essentially out of the playoff picture from the get-go, but Anderson is hardly ever the reason the Sabres lose when they do.
And for a team that has gone through so much over the past decade, having a veteran come down and acting as a coming influence for a young core can be valuable. Given the team's goaltending situation for much of the year, Anderson's play can't really be seen as anything other than a positive.
"He doesn't take life too seriously, but he takes his job seriously," Granato said. "He's extremely balanced. Sometimes, there's a TV time out, he feels our team is anxious, he comes over and sees the guys at the bench and chats with them."
It's hard not to be relaxed when you're Anderson's age. Dylan Cozens and Peyton Krebs were both a year old when Anderson got into his first NHL action with Chicago in 2002. During the Heritage Classic post-game press conference, Krebs was asked about what has given Buffalo a bit of life as of late. Before Krebs could even get a sentence in, Anderson chimed in with "good goaltending." That relaxed nature from the league's oldest NHL goaltender has been a constant in a year where someone a bit less experienced would be more down on himself.
Anderson's future isn't certain. At 40, he'd be the value veteran piece many teams would be seeking for a post-season run as insurance. Anderson is a UFA come July, so the Sabres could ship him off for one last chance at being part of a Stanley Cup contender. Anderson came just a win away from making the 2017 final with Ottawa in one of the best seasons of his career, and while he has never made it to the championship series, he has had more than a handful of wicked playoff performances in his 19-year NHL career.
The list of NHL goaltenders that have played past 40 isn't large, and he's just one game away from passing Tony Esposito for ninth all-time in games played past turning that age. It's unlikely he'll catch Dwayne Roloson's count of 50 games played, but Anderson has managed to stay healthy for most of his career in a position where twisting, turning and diving is part of the job description. His NHL career is nearing its end, but on a $750,000 cap hit, the value is definitely there for any team that might inquire about him leading up to the deadline.
Anderson is kicking butt and showing he can still hang with the best of them. And that's all you can ask for.