We close out the player portion of our grades for the Ottawa Senators’ 2018-19 season with the goalies. Evaluating goaltenders can be difficult at the best of times, but given how badly the team struggled defensively we’re left to wonder: what part of the league-worst goals against was really the fault of the goalies? Craig Anderson was 37 when the season began, and expecting him to be anything more than an adequate starter at that age was probably unrealistic. Is he totally at fault for posting a .903 save percentage? Meanwhile, the supposed back-up, Mike Condon, got injured early in the year and then mysteriously vanished from the face of the earth. Anders Nilsson was acquired to help fill the gap and the only other keeper who played at least 10 games, Mike McKenna, was traded. Since there are only two goalies left with the team that played more than a handful of games, we decided to hand out grades to only Anderson and Nilsson. Consider Marcus Hogberg’s NHL grade as “incomplete” for now.
So, all in all, it was a bit of a strange year for the Sens’ last line of defense. How did the staff and the readers grade them?
Craig Anderson: C
Reader Grade: C+
If Anderson’s struggles in the 2017-18 season could be described as a bit of a temporary blip, this past year felt like the moment when we came face-to-face with the reality that he may not be the goalie he once was. The 37 year-old posted a .903 save percentage in all situations, ranking 46th out of 60 goalies with at least 1000 minutes played; that’s basically what you’d expect from a middling back-up.
But was it the quality of chances he faced? Did Craig suffer unduly from the atrocious defense in front of him? His results don’t necessarily reflect that, as Anderson ranked 49th in 5v5 dSV% (again out of 60 qualifying goalies). For those unfamiliar with the term, dSV% looks at the expected goals from the shots a goalie faces and tries to measure whether the goalie made more or less saves than we’d expect. It’s an attempt to control for the quality of the shots a goalie is facing. These numbers can be noisy, of course, but when the advanced metrics jive nearly perfectly with the big-picture numbers and our own eye test, well, it’s pretty compelling.
Anderson wasn’t very good, but he wasn’t the sole source of the Sens’ problems. He’d be much more suited to be a back-up next year, though that seems unlikely. We gave him a C, and the readers were a bit more generous at a C+. That seems about right.
Anders Nilsson: B-
Reader Grade: B
Nilsson’s future with the Sens is uncertain, but his play during his time in the nation’s capital has probably earned him at least one more NHL contract — even if it’s not in Ottawa. Nilsson cooled off after a scorching start, but his all-situations .914 save percentage in 24 games was a welcome change given Anderson’s struggles. He’s 29, which means he likely isn’t getting any better, but he certainly seems like a capable NHL goalie. There’s a decent case to be made he’ll provide reliable goalie play for at least the next few years. If Anderson takes another step back, even a small one, that might be more than can be said about him.
The staff thought Nilsson was deserving of a B- for his efforts, while the readers gave him a straight B. His hot start earned him a bit more praise than he probably deserved, but given the absolute calamity that’s befallen this team’s goalie depth I get why even competent play was so highly prized.