Craig Anderson's stat-line reads pretty impressively this season: .927 save percentage, 2.33 GAA, 3 shutouts. His .933 even-strength save percentage puts him 7th among goalies who've played at least 20 games this season. The other thing is, he's 33, and plenty of stats show us that by about age 35, goalies start to drop off rapidly in terms of their stats. So it's very likely we're seeing the last good season of Andy, after which he will deteriorate like most goalies approaching 40. Some think this means we should sell high on him, trading him before his three-year extension kicks in. On the surface, this makes sense, but I think he holds more value in a Sens uniform than as trade bait. I'll try to explain.
For this thought exercise, I'm thinking about what the Sens will need two years from now. In two years, I hope the team has at least returned to respectability. They may not be Cup contenders yet, but I'm hoping for them to at least be solidly in the playoff mix. Thus, it makes sense to compare the value of Anderson to the value of whatever a potential trade could bring back in the 2016-17 season . To do this, I first want to consider what Anderson could fetch as a trade return.
Let's get the idea of a first-round pick out of our heads. Mrs. O had a piece asking what a trade for Anderson could yield, in which she ran down all the recent goalie trades. The goalies who brought back first-round picks? Cory Schneider, Semyon Varlamov, and Ryan Miller. The first two guys were expected to be franchise goalies for the next decade. Anderson's age immediately excludes him from that category. The Miller trade turned out to be a mistake, and in a so-called deep draft year, teams will hold on tighter to their first-rounders. I think it's fair to say teams below Ottawa in the standings won't give up their picks for anything. Andy could maybe net a late first-rounder, but I don't see any of the Cup favourites in need of a goalie. At any rate, a late first-round or a second-round pick won't be ready to contribute in Ottawa in two years.
Now, if a first-round pick is off the table, what kind of roster player could the Sens get back? Bryan Murray is always reportedly searching for a top-six forward (warning: that's an Ottawa Sun link), and might want to trade Anderson for a top-six forward. The guys recently traded in goalie trades? Steve Ott, Cory Conacher, Shawn Matthias, Matt Frattin. Three of those guys were packaged with a backup goalie. Conacher was the only one with any real hope of ending up in a team's top six, and he was a bust. The other option, and definitely the most intriguing, is the return of a top-four defenceman. The Sens are desperately in need of help on the back-end, and maybe a solid goalie could bring back such a return.
Which teams are most in need of solid goaltending? The Oilers come immediately to mind. You could probably make a case for the Coyotes and the Hurricanes too. On these teams, who could you pry free? As an example, the Wild weren't about to trade Jonas Brodin or Charlie Coyle for goaltending help. Maybe from Edmonton you could pry Jeff Petry, or maybe from Carolina you could pry Andrej Sekera, or maybe from Arizona you could pry Keith Yandle. But with how scarce good defencemen have been this year, you gotta think these teams will get better offers than a 33-year-old goalie. And in two of those cases, they'd need help fitting in a third goalie contract, and so you're probably looking at two more overpaid years of Cam Ward or a million (actually just four) more overpaid years of Mike Smith as a return. I'd do that for Keith Yandle, probably not for Lauri Korpikoski.
I guess the problem for me is that I see the return being a second-round pick, a forward in the mould of Alex Chiasson, or a defenceman in the mould of Mark Borowiecki. None of these are bad returns, they're just not what Ottawa will need in two years. Ottawa's farm system for goalies looks like a mess right now. Andrew Hammond is beginning to show why he was never drafted. Chris Driedger isn't showing much reason for confidence with this performance in the ECHL. Marcus Hogberg is probably the best goaltending prospect in the system right now, and he has yet to play a game in North America. I think in two years I'd rather have Anderson backing up Robin Lehner than any of those other guys. And in two years, this team won't care much either way if they have another bottom-pairing defenceman or another guy trying to crack the bottom six.
Some people argue that you can find an adequate goalie through free agency. My caution against that is to look at the goalies who were scooped up as free agents this off-season: Evgeni Nabokov, Anders Lindback, Chad Johnson, Justin Peters... only Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller were reliable, and both definitely come at a higher price than the Sens would be willing to pay. Mid-season, Martin Brodeur and Ilya Bryzgalov were both scooped up, and neither of those excites me very much either. Coming up this season? Ray Emery, Jhonas Enroth/Michal Neuvirth (whoever Buffalo doesn't keep), Viktor Fasth, Thomas Greiss, as well as a bunch of the same guys as last year. I don't think you replace Craig Anderson, even 35-year-old Andy, through free agency unless you're willing to shell out for a guy like Miller.
Of course, the easiest way around this is for the trade to return a backup goalie. That would interest me somewhat. If Ottawa could trade Anderson, Eric Gryba, and Zack Smith to Edmonton for Jeff Petry, Ben Scrivens, and maybe a third-round pick, you make that deal. That's better for the Sens two years from now. (As long as Petry is re-signed, but that story could get its own article.)
The problem for me is that in 95% of the trades I can envision, Ottawa either gets back someone who will never fit Ottawa's needs, or gets back something like a second-round pick that could be good in six years. I think that removing Craig Anderson makes this team definitely worse in two years. The article linked at the top shows that goalie decline starts to get noticeable by age 30. The fact that Anderson is still playing well at age 33 suggests that his decline probably won't be as bad as it is for most goalies his age. I think he'll make a better backup than pretty much anyone else available.
Trading Anderson, barring a great return, would put this team's success on hold for multiple seasons. I'm not prepared to do that. For that reason, the best course of action would be to not trade him.