The Buffalo Sabres put themselves in a bind at the start of free agency last year. They failed to lock up Linus Ullmark or any other key goaltender in time, and were forced to settle for what was left. Fortunately for them, veteran backstop Craig Anderson was willing to spend what could be his last season in the NHL in a Sabres uniform. He could have taken an offer to be a backup somewhere that would make the playoffs, but instead he chose to come to Buffalo and be a mentor for all the young players.
Anderson played in tandem mostly with Dustin Tokarski throughout the season, but was plagued by injuries early on. This issue seemed to linger and recur throughout the year, as he was limited to only 31 games, but in the nights he played, the Sabres had their best chances of winning.
Expectations for Anderson This Season
Nobody had the Buffalo Sabres accomplishing anything this season, especially with a supposed starting goaltender that sat at 41 years old. Anderson was coming off a very limited season with the Washington Capitals, having played in only four games; two of which he started. The years prior to that, he put up some below average numbers on a struggling Ottawa Senators team as well. He seemed all but tapped out of anything left to give, but Sabres General Manager (GM) Kevyn Adams had different thoughts.
With rising young goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen getting prepared to take over, Adams needed an experienced and reliable goaltender to both keep the team in games, and to mentor the youth on what it is like to have a winning mentality. This season was not about winning, it was about learning, and Anderson was the man for the job.
Anderson’s Performance and Locker Room Effect
Anderson was riddled with illnesses and injuries through the year, but he still managed to play a respectable amount of games. In his 31 appearances, he put up a 17-12-2 record, alongside a 3.12 GAA and a .897 SV%. Even though he didn’t get to the typical starter threshold of about 50 games played, he still put up a winning record on a team that was learning along the way.
The entire roster seemed to love Anderson, as their defensive play appeared better when he was tending the goal. He had a calm and steady presence on the ice, and that definitely rubbed off on the players. They trusted him to be back and bail them out if they made a mistake, and most nights he did. There were nights, on the flip side, where his age and decline were evident, as well. Could he have made it 50 or more games? It is very possible, but as the season progressed he just looked older and older. Given the circumstances he was in, he performed admirably, and well enough to earn the respect of the fan base and his teammates.
Anderson’s Final Grades
Normally the numbers posted by a goaltender are the biggest tell of their performance in a year, but for Anderson, the grades go beyond just his numbers. He was average at making the big save when it counted, and he let in some soft goals that most goalies would stop. He also backstopped a team of no-named young guns to a respectable second half of the season, and was their best option against big name opponents. He took on the challenge with heart and with poise. With that being said, his grades would look like this:
Leadership – A
Save ability – B-
Team Play – A
Clutch Performances – B
One-on-one ability – C+
Overall, I would put his performance and team effect as a balancing act to give him a resounding B+ to round out his season.
What’s Next For Anderson?
Midway through the season, Anderson had stated that he is interested in staying and playing another season with the Sabres, but he would need to discuss it with his family first and see if his body is still up to the task. He very clearly loves the game, and all of the success that the team had towards the close of the year definitely invigorate his passion even more. Kevyn Adams sounded interested in keeping Anderson around as well, but doing so may not be the best choice.
The Sabres have a very small salary cap number spent, so they have plenty of space to work with in free agency this year. Signing a younger, but still veteran goalie might be a better play than relying on Anderson’s body to hold up against another season. The Sabres had another goaltending carousel this year as six goalies tended the net to cover for illnesses or injuries. Sabres fans should be thankful to him for the effort he gave, but Kevyn Adams should be looking to the future of his goalie position; whether that’s a free agent or a healthy Luukkonen.
I have been a hockey and Buffalo Sabres fan since I was in middle school. Through the good times and the very long bad times, I have stuck by this team with the hope that one day we would become a powerhouse in the NHL. Now I join The Hockey Writers as I hope to talk about this Buffalo Sabres team on an upswing. I love this team with all my heart, and I take pride in my ability to know players, prospects, and so much more. As a hockey fan I have a particular taste for young players and prospects; doing mock drafts, looking up stats, guessing potential, doing player comparisons, all of it. The idea of the future skill in the NHL is one of my favorite things to think about, write about, and talk about. I am also an avid NHL gamer with a top ranked team in the “Threes Eliminator” mode.