Craig Anderson came over from the Colorado Avalanche just prior to the deadline, in a trade that he (and Brian Elliott) are working hard to make the Avalanche regret. Since then has given Senators fans a tantalizing glimpse of what a true number-one goaltender looks like. In 11 games with what amounts to an AHL team, Anderson has a 2.11 GAA and .938SV%, one shutout and 6 wins. In the space of two weeks, the atmosphere has gone from reluctant acceptance of the Senators' grim reality to cautious optimism, from "This rebuild is going to take at least a couple of years" to "If Anderson plays like this for a whole season..."
With Elliott gone, Pascal Leclaire dead (he died, right?), and Robin Lehner still 19 years old, there's no clear-cut candidate for the position of next season's starting goaltender. Anderson has had some bad games - recently enjoying his first time being pulled - but has rarely allowed the sort of confidence-sucking, soft, early goal (or, worse, the two softies in a minute) that we'd become accustomed to with Elliott. The team has played with confidence in front of Anderson, and he's acted like a character player, demonstrating leadership and pride during what amounts to meaningless games. This isn't Ottawa trading a bona fide top six forward for the high pedigree goalie with a big contract and a ton of injuries - 'promise over evidence,' let's call it. Ottawa traded a 9th round selection for a potential workhorse, and a blue collar player, because they believe he's worth the gesture. Anderson is a goaltender looking for a home, and Ottawa is a goalie graveyard looking for a player with a chip on his shoulder. On the surface, it looks like a perfect match.
But there are doubts. What will Anderson command, and is he worth it? After a number of seasons as a backup in Chicago and Florida, and two seasons as a starter in Colorado, he may have paid his dues, but is the sample size big enough to accurately judge his value? In 224 NHL games he has a very respectable 2.81GAA and a .912 SV%. But when you look at other NHL goaltenders who have played around 200 games, have been in the league as long as Anderson (meaning that Jonas Hiller and Carey Price aren't comparable because of their youth and upside) and with similar statistics, you get an underwhelming list:
Martin Gerber: 229GP, 2.63GAA, .911SV%
David Aebischer: 214GP, 2.52GAA, .912SV%
Roman Cechmanek: 212GP, 2.08GAA, .919SV%
The evidence is conflicting at best. After some Vezina consideration in 2009/2010, which included a 51-save shutout in the first round of the playoffs, Anderson had an injury-plagued, poor performance this season - enough, apparently, for Colorado to decide to go in another direction. But he's proven he can play 50+ games, even on a club that allows 40 shots a night. There will be some demand for his services, even if it's a risk.
So the biggest issue in re-signing Anderson isn't cash, but the quality of competition for his services. Anderson may not be able to reasonably expect much, but if that's the case, why would he take that pay cut to play for a rebuilding club? Depending on what happens in the playoffs, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, Tampa, and Detroit could all be looking for affordable goaltending come July. Other, struggling clubs like Edmonton, Columbus, Atlanta, Florida, and Toronto might even consider getting in on the bidding, especially if it's starting out so low. And then there's Colordao, who might recognize the error of their ways and come crawling back with a contract.
As an older goaltender who has yet to win anything, one has to think that Anderson won't command as much as, say, Antti Niemi, a young player with a Cup ring who just re-upped with San Jose at $3.8M per. However, at this point in his career, I don't see Anderson taking another "prove yourself" deal, or a cheap vet deal like Marty Turco signed with Chicago (1 year at $1.3M) - unless it's with a bona fide contender. In terms of goalies with comparable numbers this season, Dan Ellis is making $1.5M, Steve Mason is making $1.85M in Atlanta, and Jimmy Howard re-upped in Detroit for $2.25M. Looking only at comparables would suggest that Anderson would fall somewhere near the roughly $2M he's making now - with a greater concession made for years and stability, perhaps, than to dollars - though one report has the starting offer at $9.3M over three years, with Ottawa willing to go higher.
Ottawa doesn't have the kind of depth in goalie prospects where they can allow a potential number one, especially one who might be affordable, to slide away. On the other hand, they should be wary of handing out too many years to a player with so many question marks. Also, there isn't much more available. The premier names on this year's UFA market may be Tomas Vokoun and Ilya Bryzgalov, perhaps Jean-Sebastien Giguere if you're feeling nostalgic, but they'll either be too expensive or will re-sign with their clubs. Marty Turco, Mike Smith of Tampa, Josh Harding in Minnesota, or even Elliott's net-mate Peter Budaj are all available, and will be cheap, but none are what you would call a game-changer. By comparison, Anderson represents some true value on this market: experienced, affordable, and ready to win now. Ottawa might need to pay through the nose to keep him, and if that's the case, is it worth it?