The Ottawa Senators recently announced that the franchise’s all-time leader in games played and wins for a goaltender, Craig Anderson, would not be re-signed. After spending over 9 seasons with the team, his tenure has come to a close.
Anderson started his career being drafted twice, first by the Calgary Flames in 1999 and then by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2001. He then bounced between the AHL and NHL from 2001-07 for both the Hawks and Florida Panthers. He solidified a backup position for the Panthers between 2007-09 but never played more than 30 games in a season. His 2008-09 season caught the attention of the Colorado Avalanche in free agency as he boasted a .924 save percentage (SV%).
Anderson signed with the Avalanche as a free agent in 2009 to be the starter. In his first season, he played an astounding 71 games, putting up a solid .917 SV%. He then raised his game to another level in the first round of the playoffs against the San Jose Sharks. He started every game of the series and put up excellent numbers, with a .933 SV% and a 51-save shutout in Game 3, despite losing the series in six games. He proved capable of being a starter. The next season, though, he struggled for the Avs and this signaled a possible shakeup.
Senators’ Goaltending Struggles
For years, the Senators had been called a goalie graveyard and that name had merit. The team struggled to find a starter. They tested long time prospect Brian Elliott, but he wasn’t a fit due to consistency issues. The Sens also made a trade for the Columbus Blue Jackets starter Pascal Leclaire in the 2008-09 season. He had been injury-riddled his entire career and when he joined the Sens that didn’t change.
Leclaire’s luck can be summed up by a broken cheekbone that occurred while sitting on the bench. He played 48 games for the Sens and in 2010-11 he played 14 games and was injured yet again. Meanwhile, Elliott played 43 games and had an .894 SV%. The Sens needed to make a change if they wanted to compete in the future.
“Trade Alert” is one of the best notifications a hockey fan can get. Sens general manager Bryan Murray traded Elliott for Anderson, a rare one for one goalie trade. The Senators were at the bottom of the league and looking for a high draft pick. Anderson messed that plan up just a little bit. He went 11-5-1 with a .939 SV% and two shutouts, one of them coming against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs. There are few things Sens fans love more than beating the Leafs, but to shut them out in his first game, he became a fan favourite.
Senators Find Their No. 1 in Anderson
The 2011-12 Senators were up and down all season and in the latter half of the season, Anderson had a kitchen mishap slicing his blocker hand while cutting chicken. (from ‘Anderson cuts hand making dinner, out indefinitely,’ Ottawa Citizen, 02/23/2012) It took several weeks for his hand to heal from the freak accident. The Sens limped into the playoffs on a 3-game losing streak and winning 4 of their last 10. The Sens finished 8th and matched up against Henrik Lundqvist and the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers.
Anderson had a good first season with the Senators as the starter, posting 3 shutouts and a .914 SV%. Then came the playoffs where he seemingly flicked a switch from good to amazing. He posted a .933 SV% against the Rangers and a 41-save shutout but it just was not enough to upset the darlings of New York who took the series in 7 games.
The following 2012-13 season was odd from the get-go, as the NHL faced a lockout for most of it. Like all NHLers, Anderson was staying sharp, aware that the season could start at any time. When an agreement to return to play was made, the season finally started. He was lights out, posting an astounding .941 SV% over the course of the season. It was good to see him prove to doubters that he was the real deal. Ottawa went into the playoffs as the 7th seed and they faced the 2nd seed Montreal Canadiens.
The Senators came in and dominated that series up and down, including 1 game with a full line brawl that Sens fans still talk about today. They beat the Habs in 5 games and Anderson had a sparkling .950 SV%. Then the Senators met the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2nd round and the Sens fell flat, losing in 5 games. Andy finished the playoffs with a .918 SV%.
Jump to the 2014-15 season, a season that saw Anderson return to the form that he is used to; a season prior, he had a down year for the Sens but still put-up solid numbers. He faced a tough test this season as he went down several times due to injury. Backup Robin Lehner went down at a crucial time in the season and hope was seemingly lost for the Sens. Insert Andrew “the Hamburglar” Hammond, a struggling AHL goalie who was called up and went on a miraculous 20-1-2 run for the club and got them into the playoffs.
Anderson had seemingly lost his starting job going into the playoffs and against the Habs no less. Hammond lost his first two starts against the Habs and coach Dave Cameron felt that there needed to be a change and it was then Anderson’s time. The Sens went on to lose the series in 6 games, but it wasn’t because of Anderson, who posted a whopping .972 SV%.
In the offseason, the Sens traded Lehner to the Buffalo Sabres. He was considered to be the future for the Senators, but Anderson still had plenty more hockey to play and a decision needed to be made. The 2015-16 season saw the Senators struggling to get wins on the road and Hammond was seemingly a flash in the pan after signing a 3-year contract. Anderson, however, remained a solid No. 1, posting 31 wins, 4 shutouts and a .916 SV% but was unable to propel the Sens to the playoffs.
A Season to Remember
2016-17 was the hardest of Anderson’s long NHL career. The Senators had a great start to the season, but immediately he had to leave the club for personal reasons. It was revealed that Anderson’s wife, Nicholle, was being treated for a rare form of cancer.
The Sens community was hit hard by this, losing Sens assistant coach Mark Reeds a year before to the disease. As well as former GM Murray being diagnosed in 2014 and unfortunately passing away in 2017. However, Anderson and his family knew that Nicholle was a fighter and she would beat this.
After a loss to the Calgary Flames and subsequent injury to Hammond, Nicholle told him “your team needs you.” He flew to Edmonton and suited up for the first time since the announcement. Anderson, as if it was written in a book, shut out the Edmonton Oilers.
He was given a standing ovation and the first star of the game; coming onto the ice visibly emotional after the win. The rest of the season saw Anderson start 40 games, winning 25 of them, posting 5 shutouts and a .926 SV%.
The Senators entered the playoffs as underdogs against the Boston Bruins, yet beat them handily. They entered the 2nd round against the Rangers as underdogs and beat them handily too. All the while Anderson was playing extremely well. However, it was against the Pittsburgh Penguins that he turned it to the next level. The defending Cup champs were poised to ease past the Senators like the teams before them were supposed to, yet here was this underdog team who faced an uphill battle all season long and took the Penguins all the way to double overtime of Game 7.
What this team and Anderson accomplished considering the circumstances was astonishing. He finished the playoffs with a .922 SV% and went on to win the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for the player who “exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey”. That described every single characteristic of Anderson. It was announced later on that Nicholle beat cancer, which was the best part of the entire season.
End of an Era
The subsequent years after saw Anderson’s stats take a dip and Ottawa could be found in the bottom five of the league standings. This past season he was in and out of the lineup due to injury and the net was given to youngster goalie Marcus Hogberg. Unfortunately, everyone knew that Anderson’s time in Ottawa was coming to a close. Now a free agent, he is still looking for a team but if he’s unable to find one and decides to hang up the pads, the Senators should sign him to a one-day contract to finish his career as a Senator.
Off the ice, Anderson was always a leader in the community. When the tragic Parkland shootings occurred in 2018, he reached out to the members of the hockey team. He had them attend the games when they were playing the Panthers. (from ‘Garrioch: Craig Anderson reaching out at home in Parkland to help community heal,’ Ottawa Sun, 03/09/2018) Not to mention the numerous times Craig and Nicholle would be in the community in Ottawa, making some fans’ days with hospital visits.
Anderson was never considered an All-Star, and for quite some time, people struggled to even see him as a starting goalie in this league. However, when he and the Senators came together, it was the fit they both needed. To be a Senator is to be sometimes forgotten around the league, undervalued, and looked past. In Ottawa, however? Sens fans knew Anderson’s value and saw him as a solid No. 1 goalie who was clutch in pressure situations, especially the playoffs.
His hybrid style made him extremely fun to watch and having watched him for so long, fans could pinpoint his weaknesses of wraparounds and playing the puck. Anderson faced adversity right from the start of his career and throughout his time as a Senator. Yet, he always handled it with professionalism. It’s too bad that fans won’t hear the chanting of “Andy! Andy!” echoing around the Canadian Tire Centre, but when it happened, he was electric.