It began with THE SHUTOUT. And it was good.
In his first game with the Ottawa Senators, Craig Anderson put up a spectacular 47-save performance against their most-hated rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a harbinger of things to come. Over the next three seasons, Anderson has consistently delivered consistency, peppered with outstanding performances. In short sprints, he continues to be amazing--his numbers led the league last year, and the only thing keeping him from the Vezina Trophy was the number of games he played.
There is no doubt that Anderson has provided the team with the most stable stretch of goaltending during its history. Dominik Hasek had one good year, but quit on his teammates when they needed him the most. Patrick Lalime's five years were close, but the difference between Lalime and Anderson is the absence of fear in your gut when Anderson plays. With Lalime, there was always that doubt in your gut that a goal was coming--you didn't know how or when, but it was coming. Anderson has been consistent in his ability to keep his team in games until they get their legs under them--giving his team a chance to win.
But Anderson is not the only goalie on the team. When Bryan Murray took over as general manager of the Ottawa Senators, he identified the goaltending position as one of need, likely because he had eyes. In trading away Antoine Vermette, Murray hedged his bet on the present, with Pascal Leclaire, and the future, using Columbus' second-round pick on prospect Robin Lehner. Leclaire's career in Ottawa was marred with injury, eventually prompting the trade for Anderson, while Lehner's was scarred with fire.
For a long time, the knock on Lehner was his maturity. From fighting Riku Helenius to shoving Kevin Poulin, Lehner frequently let his intensity get the better of him. That fire was what allowed him to put together what can only be described as a spectacular streak during the Binghamton Senators' 2011 Calder Cup Championship run. It was no coincidence that Lehner won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the AHL Playoffs MVP--he literally pulled the team from being one penalty shot away from elimination to winning it all.
The problem was that playoff run was all Lehner had on his resume. Outside of that run, his numbers were not more than unspectacular. Those who felt Lehner was ready for the NHL pointed to his playoff performance. Those who felt he was not pointed to all of his other performances. There was no doubt that Lehner had the talent. The question was whether he'd find a way to harness it--to play well when the intensity of the game didn't match the intensity in his mind.
Since the Senators traded for Ben Bishop, Lehner has done exactly that. His numbers now are consistently spectacular. In his last 25 NHL games, Lehner has saved 797 of 849 shots, good for a save percentage of .938. More importantly, he's done it consistently. These games mostly come across a sporadic stretch of starts. Lehner has never been a consistent starter in the NHL. His usage has been inconsistent, yet his numbers have not. Those that wanted to see Lehner mature only have to look at the consistency in his statistics regardless of circumstance to recognize that he has.
That means the Senators have two goalies capable of starting in the NHL. It's a good problem to have--there are no wrong decisions for head coach Paul MacLean--but with Lehner's pending RFA status, it's not one that can last forever.
So, do the Senators stick with the guy that's given them the most consistent performance in more than 20 years? Anderson has missed playing time each of the past three seasons with injuries, but he's not injury-prone--each of the injuries were freak accidents: A cut hand from slicing frozen chicken, a high ankle sprain from Marc Methot tripping Chris Kreider, and a neck injury sustained when Valeri Nichuskin fell on him.
Anderson has an extremely reasonable contract. Per CapGeek, here are the 20 closest comparables by cap hit.
|Player||Games Played||GAA||Save Percentage||Cap Hit (in Millions)|
Among an eclectic pack of backups and starters, Anderson is saving an above-average number of shots. His GAA is more a reflection of the team's struggles on defense. Would most of the teams on this list prefer to have Anderson in goal than the players they're paying? One has to think the answer is yes.
This does not mean that the Senators should trade Anderson, only that he might be valuable should they consider it. Again, Ottawa's internal budget comes into play. As a cap team, they could probably get away with spending $6M on two great goaltenders. Since they are not a cap team, they probably have to spend half of that money on a different player. Robin Lehner's time is coming. If Anderson is content to take a pay cut after next season and play out his career as a backup, there's no reason the two can't coexist. It will be very interesting to see if the Senators choose to walk away from a position of strength in net the very first time they've had it.
- Chris Phillips might not play tonight. Joe Corvo would draw in if Phillips can't go. Considering that Corvo hadn't drawn in over Eric Gryba, Mark Borowiecki, and Patrick Wiercioch, I'm suspicous that Phillips injury might be rest. [Senators Extra]
- Chet Sellers has some Halloween Costume Power Rankings. Mika Zibanejad got laid, Kyle Turris is awesome, and Robin Lehner didn't participate in the Sons of Anarchy group because he didn't understand those were costumes--that's how he normally dresses. [Bonk's Mullet]
- Speaking of The Lehner, he was named the NHL's first star of the week. He'll be watching tonight's game from the bench, as Anderson gets the start. Paul MacLean is brave. [SE}
- Jason Spezza doesn't give a crap about points. Is that weird? Is that bad for the team? [The 6th Sens]
- Derek Grant realizes his best chance of playing in the NHL is the DEREK GRANT POWER HOUR, so that's where he's focused. [SE]
- More hilarity from Bonk's Mullet, as scumbag new writer Capital Gains puts together a preview of the game. We'd do something similar if Adnan knew Photoshop. [RBM]
- Mark Borowiecki has been an important part of the team's season in just a short time [SE]
- The Western Conference has a lot of good teams. [PHT]
- Nail Yakupov is supposedly unhappy with how he's being used, and may be "willing to make a move." Yeah, BACK TO RUSSIA! Am I right, xenophobes? [PHT]
- [WARNING: NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH] In what has to be the worst news for the NHL all season, Steven Stamkos gruesomely broke his right tibia last night. No one knows when he'll return, but he's one of my favorite players to watch, so hopefully he can make a full recovery. [PHT]
- The Tampa Bay Lightning also lost Sami Salo and Keith Aulie to injuries, but they're not Stamkos, so who cares? [Twitter]
- In terms of less gruesome injuries, Thomas Vanek remains out with an upper body injury for the New York Islanders. [Twitter]
- In response to the ugly Jonathan Martin incident in the NFL--Martin was a starter who walked away from his team after repeated hazing--the NHL plans to address off-ice bullying in upcoming GM meetings. But remember, this is okay. [Twitter]
- Wayne Gretzky says in an interview he doesn't want to return to coaching. Which is good, because he wasn't very good at it. [Toronto Star]
- Michael Cammalleri believes in the zen focus of golf. No snark here... I totally agree with him. Mental mastery is a key part of professional success--just look at Lehner. [Calgary Sun]