Will Craig Anderson be traded? If so, when?
The Sens have really started to turn things around as of late, and with Robin Lehner playing extremely well (named the NHL's 1st star of the week for his 3 consecutive wins), it's certain that he will be ready very soon to assume the mantle of starting goaltender on a full-time basis. Fortunately, however, Ottawa is lucky enough to already possess a fantastic starting goalie in the form of Craig Anderson. While Paul MacLean has made it clear that Andy will remain the starting goalie now that he's returned to the lineup (as per his comments from his press conference on Nov. 11th indicating Anderson would start vs. the Flyers), management and fans will have to start wondering about Anderson's future over the next 18 months or so.
With Anderson's contract set to expire at the end of the 2014-15 season, it seems incredibly likely he will be dealt for assets before the deal runs out. There remain three likely times for this to occur: A) the trade deadline in March 2014, B) the 2014 offseason, or C) the 2015 trade deadline. I personally believe that the Sens are likely to retain Anderson at least for this season, assuming they remain in playoff position (which looks far more promising this week than it did last). After that, however, it remains anyone's guess, in my opinion.
With this in mind, it's clear that there is a limited market for goaltenders even in the best of times. Some teams will be looking out soon for goaltending help before the start of next season; the Islanders, Panthers, and Sabres - assuming Ryan Miller is indeed dealt - are some teams that immediately spring to mind. However, with less than 25% of the current season complete, there's tons that could be added to that list. Indeed, it led to the brainwave I had tonight.
I thought for a while tonight about the situation the Winnipeg Jets are in. It's always strange when a team relocates and changes the full front-office staff upon relocation; as much as an owner can hope to mould a team with his own selection of GM and coach, ultimately, large-scale changes of a roster take time, and the Jets still have a similar feel to the team they were when they were south of the 49th parallel. The Jets (and Thrashers before them) have been a perpetual bubble team; there's always been a small core of incredibly talented players, but without adequate support, they've never been effective at taking the next step into the post-season. To me, their most glaring weakness has always been goaltending. If you recall the days of Kari Lehtonen, Mike Dunham, or Johan Hedberg, you'll see the trend I'm getting at.
Currently, Ondrej Pavelec is the undisputed number 1 goalie in Winnipeg, but despite his status, the reality is that his numbers have been highly unimpressive for a player touted as a starter for his entire career. Let's reflect on his career statistics: in 246 NHL games, Pavelec has posted a record of 97-106-41 with a SV% of .907. and a GAA of 2.95.
To put this in context, I'll focus on the (admittedly small) game sample so far from the 2013-14 season. In 15 games thus far, Pavelec has gone 6-7-2 with a 2.92 GAA and .909 SV%. While goals-against and save percentage are both slightly above his current career averages, they still rank 33rd and 35th among goalies having played a minimum of 5 games thus far this season. For someone who's started 15 of 19 games thus far this season, those are hardly encouraging statistics.
Contrast this, if you will, against the career statistics of Craig Anderson. In his career, he's played in 329 games and gone 142-123-57 with a .915 SV% and 2.72 GAA. In 11 games this year, he's gone 4-4-2 with a .912 SV% and - get this - 3.12 GAA. Obviously, these numbers have regressed somewhat from his career averages, but keep in mind as well that he's had to deal with a Sens defence that has been putrid at several points early in the season. The fact of the matter is that it is actually reasonably impressive that his SV% is so high when his GAA is north of 3.0; it's indicative of that fact he's had to face a ton of rubber thus far.
Considering Anderson's play in the 2013 season as well as the latter half of the 2011-12 season, it's clear indication that he would certainly be an upgrade over Pavelec at this position, for the time being. Based on numbers alone, I'd want to acquire him were I Kevin Cheveldayoff. However, there are a number of other notable issues to consider before pulling the trigger on a deal, which I will discuss next.
First off is the matter of age. Age is an important factor, particularly in the world of goaltending. While it typically takes longer for an NHL-drafted goalie to mature into a "bona-fide" starter, if you will, the trade-off is that many goalies can also remain effective players longer into their 30s than other positions. Case in point: Tim Thomas, he of two Vezina Trophies, all over the age of 35. Case in point: Martin Brodeur, he who led the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final at age 40. Case in point: J-S Giguere, enjoying a resurgence in Colorado at age 36.
With this in mind, contrast it with the fact that Pavelec is still 26 right now. With the understanding that true mastery of goaltending at an NHL level takes patience, I can understand why the organization has been patient with Pavelec in his development. However, there's a flip side to this argument as well - one might argue that in the three-plus seasons that Pavelec has served as a starter, there's enough of a sample size to determine his worth as a player from here on out.
Craig Anderson, meanwhile, is 31. Based on the careers of some previously named goalies, I believe he can remain a highly effective starter for at least another three or four season after this current one.
The question, ultimately, to the Jets, becomes "Do you feel that three seasons of Craig Anderson at age 32/3 to 35/6 would be more effective than Pavelec at age 26-29?" If current career numbers remain roughly on par with what they have been for both goalies thus far, this seems to be a likely conclusion.
Lastly, there's the matter of contracts to consider. With the salary cap currently constricted from last season, but projected to rise, there's some room to manuever. However, considering both teams are both small-market, budget-conscious teams (Ottawa, in particular - thanks Eugene!), this is probably one of the single most important factors in influencing whether Winnipeg pursues Anderson or not.
Currently, Ondrej Pavelec is on the second year of a five-year deal, making an AAV of $3.9 million. Anderson, meanwhile, after the end of this season, is on the final year of a four-year deal where he makes an AAV of $3.1875 million.
Hmm. Now that is interesting indeed. A better goaltender, with a cheaper contract? The Jets would certainly notice that.
Despite all this, though, Winnipeg remains in a tricky situation when it comes to goaltending. Pavelec's current contract is definitely an albatross, and would be difficult to move for a good return (unless you went out drinking with Charles Wang, perhaps, but let's not speculate). Ottawa certainly has no need for a goaltender in return, as Robin Lehner is both far better and much cheaper (for now) than Pavelec. Assuming that there are no takers for a goalie, Winnipeg still has an out, fortunately, though the window in which they have to use it is gone after July 2014 - the good ol' compliance buyout.
If Pavelec were to be bought out in July 2014, the resulting payment would be $1.41667 million spread out over six seasons, and would be fully paid off in the 2019-20 season. While the last three years of that six-year period would be merely just a negative hit, the first three would see would see a total of $2.33 million, $2.83, and $3.33 million saved, respectively, for a total of near $8.5 million in salary saved. When you deduct the three years of $1.41667 from those savings, those total savings shrink to $3.75 million saved, which as a percentage of the initial value of the deal ($19.5 million), it works out to just under 20% savings on the deal.
Logically, it makes sense that this trade goes down in the 2014 offseason, then, as it doesn't make sense for Winnipeg to carry extra salary for the tail end of this season. And of course, it can't happen in the 2015 trade deadline either, as the compliance buyout window ends after that time.
As I mentioned previously, Ottawa's certainly not in the market for goaltending right now. They could really use one of two things instead: a good, young forward with the ability to replace or improve upon the lost production of Milan Michalek (as he is almost certain to not be re-signed after his current deals expires at the end of this season), or some help on the back end. With this in mind, there are four or five players of note that I think Ottawa would want to be the asking price for Anderson. Let's take a look.
Oh, boy. EK9 sure would look good on the wing with either Spezza or (one day) Zibanejad, yeah? I, for one, like the possibilities. Kane is a career 0.6 ppg player (86 G and 83 A for 169 pts in 278 games), and currently is playing with Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi. However, his possession skills are what concerns me about his game. Playing on a line in 2013 with Jokinen and Antii Miettenen, the line was only average 48% of the even-strength chances for. While that's not unbelievably bad, it's probably not ideal for the Sens, who are so concerned about being a possession-driven team. His contract, though, is looking expensive currently - the Jets are on the hook for an AAV of $5.25 million/year for the next five years (including this current season). Perhaps they might view the acquisition of Anderson and (logical) buyout of Pavelec as an excuse to salary dump, perhaps. Still, can't see ol' 'Gene being too keen on this trade. That's over two million dollars more in cap hit coming back in return.
Besides, Evander Kane is still 22. As much as I like to daydream, I still feel like the Jets would be highly unlikely to cut ties with one of their most promising young players so early in his career.
The Winnipeg Jets acquired Setoguchi in the 2013 offseason in a trade with the Minnesota Wild for a second-round draft pick. It's early yet in this season, but in 18 games so far in 2013-14, Setoguchi has 4 goals and 5 assists for 9 points. A career 0.57 ppg player, this is ever so slightly under that pace for this season, but at age 26, he's definitely become a very dependable second-line player on San Jose, Minnesota, and now Winnipeg. His possession skills are also average, at best, but potentially could improve if he saw the right linemates - a big "if." Contractually, he's due $3 million dollars this year, and his contract expires at the end of this year. If you're looking for budget replacements to Milan's depth (and assuming you could get him to re-sign in Ottawa), potentially he might be a fit on another short-term deal.
Let me preface this suggestion that I'm a huge Buff fan - I love his game and would love to have him in a Sens uniform, but I still Winnipeg would have to be asleep at the switch if they gave him up in return for Anderson.
Byfuglien's career stats are a bit difficult to validate due to his switch to defense after being traded to Atlanta, so for analysis's sake, I'm going to only use his numbers from the past four seasons, post-move. In 209 games as a Thrasher/Jet, Big Buff has scored 41 goals and 105 assists in 209 games, which is good for 0.69 ppg. That's awesome. Then there's the matter of his possession stats. This season, he's averaging 54.8% of even-strength chances with defence partner Tobias Enstrom. They're two of only three players above 50% possession on a team averaging 42.2% percent - they're basically driving the bus in terms of creating chances for the Jets. Buff would be an amazing player to land, but I think Winnipeg would have to be completely out of their minds to not realize the value they have in Byfuglien. Buff's making an AAV of $5.2 million/year until the summer of 2016, a fantastic contract for someone who's a workhorse number 1 defenceman.
Maybe, though, if Tim Murray let Lehner help with the trade negotiations, it might be successful??...
Enstrom occasionally gets knocked as "guy who basically just benefits from playing with Byfuglien", but quite honestly he's a very solid defenceman in his own regard. In 421 games he's recorded 38 G and 189 A for 227 points, good for 0.53 ppg. Coupled with the previously-mentioned strong possession stats he's displayed playing with Byfuglien, he'd be a good fit. Can't knock the Swedish presence in the room either - we'd be doing well to keep Karlsson happy in that regard. I do, however, find issue with his current contract - he's making an AAV of $5.75 million/year until 2018. That would put him immediately as the second-highest-paid defenceman on Ottawa, only $750K less than Karlsson. And nobody deserves to be that close to Karlsson. Hell, Erik Karlsson deserves his own dressing room. His own arena. Hell, Erik Karlsson should just own the team.
All joking aside, even with the reduction in cap hit with the departure of Anderson, it's tough to see Melnyk wanting to put another $2.6 million towards payroll, even if it has tangible benefits. As well, the fact that Enstrom is signed from age 29 until age 34 at the same cap hit may be a deterrent.
Bogosian and Jacob Trouba are Winnipeg's defencemen of the future, right now. Zach is still 23 years old, and has plenty of time to continue to develop his game. Bogosian's a career 0.33 ppg player, with only 3 assists thus far in 19 games played, but his style of game is far more geared towards the defensive end of the rink than some of his other teammates. More worrisome to me, though, is his current contract - he's signed until 2020 at $5.14 million per season. That's a ton of money for a guy who's still playing fairly sheltered minutes at this point in his career. I can't see that dollar amount being too popular among the Murrays.
Ultimately, there's a few options here. None are perfect, but there's a number of players I think the Murrays could do a decent job of pursuing in order to get a good return for Craig Anderson. I think most realistically, we might be able to land Setoguchi and a second-rounder in exchange for Anderson, with another pick if Setoguchi doesn't end up re-signing. Still, thanks for reading, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this matter!
Nick Roy is a Queen's University music student and professional musician, with a strong interest in sports analysis. Follow Nick on Twitter at @nickroy13 for more thoughts on the NHL, the NFL, college football, music, theatre, technology and more!