If there’s one NHL team that could use some good karma these days, it’s the Ottawa Senators. The GM is battling cancer, they’ve lost their captain for the second straight year, ownership has a case of the shorts, they’re the only Canadian team that has trouble filling its building and the on-ice prospects don’t look particularly good at the moment.
There could have been worse things than the news that they had signed a 33-year-old goaltender coming off a bad year to a three-year contract worth $12.6 million. This means the Senators go into this season with a goaltending tandem consisting of the aforementioned Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, which isn’t exactly Ben Bishop and Brian Elliott – two elite NHL starters the Senators traded away - but it’s not bad.
Still, it’s a little perplexing why the Senators would choose to extend Anderson’s contract when they don’t really know which Anderson will actually perform for them and he was still a full year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent. With the off-season market for goaltenders being what it is, they could not been afraid of losing him as a UFA in a year, could they?
From this corner, it looks as though the Senators made this move for a couple of reasons. The first is they clearly think Lehner, who recently signed for three years at $6.675 million himself, is the Senators goaltender of the future. They’re just not sure about the present. If Lehner proves to be capable, Anderson becomes a pretty expensive backup.
The second is this is a franchise trying to sell some security and stability at a time when neither has been terribly omnipresent of late. With Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza both bolting, this is an organization that needs to prove to its fans that it is serious about retaining its core players. Why else would they sign Clarke MacArthur and Mark Borowiecki to extensions a year before their contracts expired? And it appears as though the Senators are intent on doing the same with Marc Methot and Bobby Ryan.
Which is all well and good when the team is winning. But the Senators are selling security and stability of a roster that missed the playoffs last season and, barring an overachieving 2014-15, appears to be subject to the same fate this season. But if the Senators do bounce back and make the playoffs this season, there’s a good chance Anderson will have something to do with it.
And there’s the conundrum the Senators face with their goaltending. In fact, almost every team in the NHL faces a similar one. When it comes to goaltending, a lot of teams are stumbling around in the dark looking for a tandem that works. Last season’s Vezina Trophy contender could be this season’s flop. Nobody realizes that more than Anderson, who was superhuman in leading the Senators to the playoffs during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, only to be plagued by inconsistency last season.
It didn’t help that Senators coach Paul MacLean seemed to botch his handling of both Anderson and Lehner last season. There was a stretch in November when Lehner put together a 3-0-2 record in five starts and was named the NHL’s first star of the week while Anderson was injured. Despite the streak, as soon as Anderson came back, MacLean gave him the net and the Senators went into a tailspin from which they never recovered.
There’s not a lot of risk, though, to signing Anderson for three more years, particularly when they were able to do so without attaching any kind of no-trade clause to the contract. At a $4.2 million cap hit for the three seasons after 2014-15, Anderson’s money and term are not untradeable. The New York Islanders signed Jaroslav Halak for four years at $4.5 million a season and Anderson at his best is better than Halak. And the third year of the deal the salary goes down to $3.1 million, which might appeal to a small market team struggling in goal that needs a higher cap hit and less salary.
If Anderson proves to be the goaltender he was two years ago, the Senators will look brilliant by getting him under contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent. If it’s more of the same from last season, they can hand the ball to Lehner and Anderson can make a lot of money for wearing a ball cap and opening the door at the players’ bench.