Robin Lehner’s passion and raw talent were never in question. He had the raw ingredients to make a number one NHL goaltender. What he lacked were the focus, the patience, and the maturity to take the reins. He has come a long way since winning the Calder Cup, being named MVP, and by all accounts, expecting to be crowned NHL starter. Recently, he took on an impressive fitness regime. He didn’t complain when Ben Bishop was getting all the starts. And even this past season, with Anderson struggling while Lehner was named NHL first star of the week, he took his lumps when Anderson continued to be named MacLean’s starter.
Elliotte Friedman had an excellent point, that Lehner’s numbers at his age are similar to Tuukka Rask and Semyon Varlamov. I think it is safe to look at Ottawa’s current situation as similar to that of Boston when they had Tim Thomas and Rask: a proven veteran and a promising youngster competing for the same job. Now, Anderson is not flirting with retirement the way Thomas was, but Craig Anderson is a UFA at the end of the season and will likely go elsewhere if he is expected to play second fiddle to Lehner. Ottawa’s aim should be to avoid Boston’s situation of losing Thomas for nothing, especially as Anderson has a few years left to play and has a resume that should still gather a bit of a return.
The problem is that as amazing as Anderson’s record-setting 2013 season was, his 2013-14 season was a disappointment in every way. His trade value was probably at its best at the 2013 trade deadline, but by a season later, has dropped down to the level of "straight up for Brian Elliott". For this reason, it’s not worth it for the Senators to trade him this coming off-season. He is more valuable as an asset than the market would be willing to pay right now.
My plan would be to start the 2014-15 season with both goaltenders under contract, and playing them every other game or so. Lehner should be signed to a three-year deal, at $2- to $3-million per. If Lehner plays anywhere near Rask’s value, this will be a steal of a contract. Anderson is still a capable goaltender, just one with less of a future than Lehner. As it would be extremely difficult for him to play himself into being a worse trade candidate, my hope is that his stock will again rise. About 30 games into the season, Brian Murray would start shopping Anderson. By this point in the season, there will also be teams whose plans for goaltending did not work out, and GMs will be looking to make a splash in a desperate attempt to save their jobs. Ideally a trade would happen close to the trade deadline, after which Lehner could become the primary goaltender, with either Hammond or Lawson called up for an extended audition as backup. The Senators would then ride Lehner as their starter into the playoffs (and hopefully to the Cup).
Following this, the off-season would be very interesting. If either Hammond or Lawson performed admirably in their call-up, they would be signed to a backup contract for two or three years, holding the fort behind Lehner for the foreseeable future. However, if neither proved capable, then the Senators would probably do best to pursue a veteran back-up who could fill in well as necessary without creating a traditional Ottawa goaltending controversy. As low-level goaltenders tend to be easily obtained, a trade is always possible. However, looking at CapGeek’s list of UFA goaltenders in 2014 and 2015, some interesting names arise: Al Montoya, Thomas Greiss, and Peter Budaj may all be available, and have all shown to be capable backups in their careers. I believe that an adequate backup is always available for cheap, and will provide good value for money.
In short, I think that Lehner should backstop this team, and that Anderson should be traded, since I expect he will leave for nothing at the end of the season. For the short-term, Lehner should be backed up by one of Ottawa’s AHL goaltenders. If neither is up to the task, then the Senators should look for a cheap, veteran backup, as there always seems to be a surplus of these. Ottawa’s goaltending situation actually appears to be the most easily resolved of Ottawa’s upcoming issues, meaning I doubt it will progress as simply as I have planned.