This past season Ottawa realized that they actually have quite a few top line players on their team, besides the obvious superstar Erik Karlsson. Mark Stone broke out, Mike Hoffman lead the team in goals, Kyle Turris continued his improvement as a first line centre, Mika Zibanejad showed flashes of being a first liner, Bobby Ryan can still contribute 50-60 points, and Patrick Wiercioch is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
However, none of those players will mean more to Ottawa in 2015-16 than Craig Anderson. Of course Karlsson is extremely valuable as he's arguably the league's best defenseman, but there's no reason to pointing out that he's important to Ottawa's success. Washington won't win without Alex Ovechkin, New York won't without John Tavares, etc.
Obviously your star players matter. Anderson isn't really a true "star" but I'd argue that how he plays will ultimately dictate how well Ottawa does more than any one player on the team. Barring a major injury from Karlsson, he'll still be very good at the least. I can't say the same for Anderson, as we just saw in 2013-14 that he can have sub-par seasons as well.
When he's at the top of his game, he can be a top-5/top-10 goalie in the league with a .920 save percentage, which could put Ottawa in maybe 2nd or 3rd in the Atlantic Division. However, the downside is just as severe as his save percentage in 2013-14 was .911. In a league with an average of about .915, that would put Ottawa in the bottom ten in the league. It doesn't help that the Senators tend to give up more shots than other teams, so it's imperative that they receive quality goaltending.
Here are Anderson's career stats to date, which show him as a solid starter as a Senator.
The only problem is, he has missed significant time two out of the past three seasons. Even in 2013-14 he only played 53 games, although that was because of his poor play. Just take a look at his save percentages in the last five or six seasons and you can see how streaky he has been.
Just last year fans were saying he is done as a starter, and even while Hammond was playing well in 2015 the majority of people were bearish on Anderson. As he turned 34 a few months ago, can we trust him to still be an above average to elite goaltender? Nobody really knows at this point.
In 2013-14, the New York Islanders were a bad team, but the biggest reason why was because of their horrendous goaltending. Their team save percentage was .894 which was dead last in the league while also giving up 261 goals (3rd last).
Then in the off-season Garth Snow acquired Jaroslav Halak and he was a major reason why they improved. The Islanders gave up 224 goals, and got their save percentage to .903. They would have had an even better record if backups Chad Johnson and Michal Neuvirth hadn't been horrendous, as Halak's numbers (.914%) were around average. Despite them still finishing 26th in save percentage, they cut down on 37 goals by making their goaltending closer to respectable.
Even if the Islanders had gotten just .903 goaltending in 2013-14, their goal differential would have been -8 instead of -45. Imagine how much better their record could have been if they had average goaltending? The point that I'm trying to make is that even with a slight change in saves, teams records can shift drastically.
Ottawa's offense should still be good, but if Anderson fails them then they will be in trouble no matter what. After all, they gave up the 4th most goals in 2013-14 so it's not hard to see a repeat of that happen.
Although the team does have magic man Hammond as a backup, I just can't see him as a legitimate option to replace Anderson if he fails. He might be a late bloomer that can be a backup since goalies are usually voodoo, but his track record doesn't make me so confident.
Even in College he wasn't a superstar, so I don't have 100% faith in him just yet, and the same goes for Matt O'Connor. If Anderson is slightly below average, Ottawa won't be that good. He makes their defense look better than it actually is most of the time, as evidenced by their 2nd best 100 goals against in 2013. Ottawa's team SV% last year was .921 (4th), and they gave up the 6th most shots per game. If their team SV% drops to around .915 (which it should), that would mean the Senators will allow 20 more goals than last year if they keep allowing plenty of shots against.
That's a conservative estimate, as just two years ago the team SV% was .909.
Anderson is the only player that can single-handedly make Ottawa a good playoff team or a cellar-dweller. Of course this is assuming that everyone else plays as they generally were expected to, but that may change. Or perhaps Hammond actually is the real deal. Nevertheless, Anderson has a massive influence on how the Senator's season will go.
At other positions, certain players can pick up the slack, like Ziibanejad covering for Turris or Hoffman scoring more than Ryan. However, the goalies are different. The only real starter they have right now is Anderson, and he could either be amazing or start to begin his decline. After all, goalies do not age well. Even Martin Brodeur had to slow down in his last few seasons, so it happens to everyone.
In April 2016, to see if Ottawa made the playoffs all you have to do is check Anderson's stats for the year.