When you think of Ottawa Senators goaltenders, many names come to mind. Ron Tugnutt, Patrick Lalime, Dominik Hasek, and Ray Emery are names that you associate as the greatest goalies in franchise history. However, I believe that Craig Anderson is criminally underrated when it comes to the best Senators goalies of all time.
Anderson the Anchor
When Anderson arrived in the middle of the 2010-11 NHL season via the Colorado Avalanche, he was a stabilizing force that gave the Senators an anchor to a drifting ship. When he was acquired for Brian Elliot on Jan. 20, 2011, the Senators were in the midst of a lost season that would end in a 26th overall finish. While Anderson wasn’t the answer that season (despite a .939 save percentage (SV%) and 2.05 goals against average (GAA) in 18 games with Ottawa), he did provide a stable presence in the net that Ottawa had lacked since the departure of Emery a few years prior.
With Ottawa’s 2010-11 season ending in failure, it cost then head coach Cory Clouston his job. This would be the third firing since 2008 and put the Senators in a tough situation. Ottawa entered the 2011-12 season with Anderson as their starting goalie, and he guided them back to the playoffs and gave Senators fans hope again.
Anderson Makes His Name
Before his time with the Senators, Anderson had experienced success and failure in his career with the Florida Panthers, Chicago Blackhawks and Avalanche. His play in Colorado earned him an honourable mention in THW’s Avalanche goalies of the 2010s. However, the best play of his career was born and developed in Ottawa.
From his arrival in 2011, Anderson’s stats tell us that he should be mentioned with the other great goalies of the early to mid-2010s. From his 47-save winning debut on Feb. 19, 2011, to the end of Ottawa’s run of success at the end of the 2016-17 season, Anderson put up numbers that rival the best in the game. In 293 games with the Senators during that period; Anderson put up a .920 SV% and 2.49 GAA. This was good enough to be mentioned on Sportsnet’s Senators team of the decade.
To put that in perspective, here are Vezina winners, and two of the best goalies of the 2010s in Carey Price and Braden Holtby. During the same period of time, Price put up a .923 SV% and 2.23 GAA. Holtby’s numbers were very similar with a .921 SV% and 2.26 GAA. To be mentioned with these two giants of the game is a large compliment. To have similar numbers is an eye-opener to how good Anderson was during these years.
Anderson’s Playoff Prowess
In recent years, Ottawa fan’s minds have obviously not been on the playoff picture. That being said, when discussing Anderson’s place in Senators history, you cannot overlook his performances in the postseason. Even before becoming a Senator, Anderson made his presence known in Colorado with an amazing performance in the Avalanche’s first-round exit in 2010. As a Senator, this trend has continued.
In 40 playoff games with Ottawa, Anderson has compiled a .928 SV% and a 2.30 GAA. His 40 games are second all-time in Senators’ history, while his save percentage and goals-against average are first and fourth, respectively. He also showed his value to the Sens in the midst of Andrew Hammond nearly taking his starting job. This also includes nearly single-handedly engineering a reverse sweep of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2015 playoffs, where he took the reigns from Hammond. When factoring in the quality of the teams that Lalime and Emery were behind in the late 1990s to mid-2000s, it isn’t a stretch to call Anderson the best playoff performer the franchise has seen.
Anderson’s Role as a Leader
Even looking past his statistics, Anderson has been a warrior, having to deal with a tragedy no one should, when his wife Nicole was diagnosed with cancer. No one would have questioned if Anderson took the season off to be with his family. However, after taking a leave of absence, he showed courage and extreme mental fortitude, to lead the Sens to the Eastern Conference Final, and capture the Bill Masterson Award.
All this being said, it isn’t a controversial statement to say that over the last three seasons, Anderson has been less than subpar. His stats and play have been abysmal, and while it’s not a complete excuse, the quality of the team, as well as the culture surrounding the Senators have been very trying on everyone. Apart from this, Anderson still has a role to play on this team.
The Senators have young goalies in the system that can benefit from Anderson’s mentorship. Marcus Hogberg is the Senators’ next hope for a bonafide number one starter, and I believe that Anderson can be the person to teach him. While Anderson is clearly no longer the goalie he used to be, he can mentor Hogberg, and perhaps to a less extent Joey Daccord. When the sun sets on Anderson’s career, the Senators should bring him back as a player development personal.
What is Anderson’s Legacy?
When we think back and remember Anderson’s career, we may picture Anderson’s last few years with the issues with both the team and the environment around them. What we should see is that Anderson is the greatest goalie the Senators have and it will take many years, if it ever happens, for anyone to surpass the legacy that Anderson left in Ottawa.
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