It's hard to believe. A goaltender from the Ottawa Senators was mentioned in the same sentence as "Vezina trophy" this season (and was en route to winning it, if it wasn't for an unfortunate injury). As a long time Sens fan who has suffered through the years of searching for a reliable, consistent goaltending, this almost brought a tear to my eye!
It's so strange, for the first time ever, to head into the offseason in back to back seasons completely confident in the puck-stopping ability of the team's netminders. There are no "if the #1 goes down, we could be in trouble" or "he played well for stretches- if only he could be more consistent" or "well, he always plays great in the regular season, but he chokes in the playoffs" types of issues or questions to deal with any longer. Thank goodness. I'm curious how many playoff series over the past decade would have had different outcomes if the Sens actually had the kind of goaltending they have now (against one annoying team in particular, who shall remain unnamed), but I digress.
It's clear what Ottawa has right now: a legitimate starting goaltender who can bail the team out of tough times, making timely saves and stealing a game or two (or three, or four, or ten) when needed, and an upcoming stud who will soon take the reigns as the team's goalie of the future. This is a situation that the majority of teams in the league envy, as even some teams who do have elite starting goaltenders still have depth issues. How would the Rangers fare if Henrik Lundqvist got injured and wasn't between the pipes? I think we all know the answer to that one! Why then, despite this ideal situation, which I have been craving since what seems like the dawn of time, am I thinking that it might be good to trade one of our goaltenders in the near future? Am I crazy?
This upcoming season has no question marks in net whatsoever. Craig Anderson is the starting goaltender, and Robin Lehner is the backup. However, where things get interesting, is next year. Lehner's contract is up and he is set to become a restricted free agent. After forcing his way onto the team this year with his solid play (and in the process, forcing the trade of Ben Bishop), he has shown that he is now ready for the big league and would likely be a better starter than many goalies who played on other teams this year.
Due to this, regardless of the pay increase he is due, he is going to want to play as a starter next year, and will likely get that opportunity- if not from the Sens, then from another team who puts in an offer sheet for him. General Managers have shown in recent years that when they are desperate to fill a certain position, they will pull out all the stops and are willing to submit offer sheets worth ridiculous money (*cough* Paul Holmgren *cough*). I'm fairly certain at least a few teams next year will become desperate for a goalie and would love a shot at this promising young goaltender. As Anderson is still under contract the following year, the question for Ottawa then becomes: "Do we risk matching another team's crazy offer sheet, or do we address this on our own terms before it reaches that point?"
This predicament makes me think of Boston, who were in an almost identical situation over the past couple of seasons. While Tim Thomas won both the Vezina and the Conn Smythe trophy en route to a Stanley Cup, Boston had a certain young goaltender named Tuuka Rask waiting in the wings, who was fully ready to start for the team and was chomping at the bit to get his shot. Luckily, Thomas made some questionable remarks in the media that were a distraction for the team, making the decision easy for Boston to choose between the two, and Thomas was let go. The result? Rask is now having a Conn Smythe worthy (and possibly cup winning) season of his own. I feel that Ottawa is currently in the same position (minus the Stanley Cup talk obviously, and the fact that neither of our goalies is nuttier than a jar of peanut butter), and must decide who to go with after the following season concludes. So, next offseason, what should Ottawa do?
Personally, at the moment, given that I fully expect both goalies to play at a high level next year as well, I feel the best thing moving forward for the organization would be to sign Lehner to a new deal that suits both parties before the free agency period begins, and trade Anderson for something valuable. Now, given his play lately, I know many people would gasp at that thought (I even somewhat question it myself). When you think about it though, he could possibly fetch a very valuable return. If he plays as well as he did this past year, what team wouldn't be interested in him? Especially if there is a team who ends up in the same situation that Pittsburgh was this year- having a solid team with questionable goaltending. This would give Ottawa the opportunity to "stock the cupboards" or address other possible needs, while remaining solid at the goaltending position.
They'd obviously have to sign someone as a backup, but to me that's a moot point, because after the following season, they would have to do so anyway, as the team would be forced to choose who their starter is then. Why not take the initiative and get something for Anderson before he leaves as a free agent, or Lehner gets snatched up (or ends up overpaid)?
This is just my two cents, and the next season will go a long way to determining how things pan out, but I'd be curious to hear what other Silver Seven readers think about this.
Until next time- cheers!