… Plus Maple Leafs running short on goalies; Jonas Hiller’s head problems persisting; and Jaroslav Halak hurts hand in Blues practice again, and more in the Feb. 18 update.
In a potential win-win for both teams and both goaltenders, the Ottawa Senators continued their dismantling by sending goaltender Brian Elliott to the Colorado Avalanche for struggling stopper Craig Anderson on Friday.
In Anderson, the Senators get a goalie just one season removed from receiving Hart and Vezina Trophy votes with the Avalanche. He struggled to match that level in a season slowed by groin and knee injuries, but the real problem according to at least two sources close to Anderson was Colorado’s unwillingness to even talk about a contract extension for the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, who came to the Avalanche on a bargain two-year, $3.6-million free agent deal in the summer of 2009.
Say what you want about what that indicates as far as Anderson’s mental toughness, but this was an eight-year NHL veteran who had bounced around a lot, playing for three different teams – and being claimed off waivers but unused by two others – before finally appearing to have a couple of breakthrough seasons. They started in Florida, where he posted save percentages of .931, .935, and .924 to earn the Colorado contract, and continued with a .917 performance that got the Avalanche to the playoffs last season.
Don’t be surprised if Anderson gets the stability he wanted, at least short term, in Ottawa, where the Senators are sure to walk away from oft-injured Pascal Leclaire and don’t have any goalies under contract for next season beyond 19-year-old Swede Robin Lehner.
“I didn’t think our goaltending was good enough going forward,” General Manager Brian Murray said. “We get a free look at Craig. We think he is going to be one of the guys we look at this summer that we like.”
Anderson is 13-5-3 this season with a 3.28 goals-against average and an .897 save percentage, his worst statistics since 2006-07 behind a terrible Chicago team, and well off his pace of last season, when he led the NHL with 2,047 saves and posted seven shutouts. He didn’t have any goose eggs this year, and was backing up Peter Budaj after taking a recent leave of absence for personal reasons, but despite indications from his representatives to the contrary, insisted the lack of contract talk with Colorado wasn’t a factor:
“When you get a few years in the league, you understand a little bit of the mental aspect of the game,” Anderson told the Denver Post. “You can only focus on what you can control, and obviously contract matters are out of my control. It’s a game; you have fun at it, and the paycheck is a bonus.”
As for how he’ll play in Ottawa, Anderson, who has a career .911 save-percentage, was at his best last season in Colorado when he was playing well out of his crease, with his heels completely outside the blue ice, something that won’t get any easier behind a rebuilding Senators franchise that seems destined to get even younger and less experienced on defense before the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
As for Elliott, he was derided too easily and too often in Ottawa after being forced to make significant alterations to his style coming out of college, where he spent a lot of time making half-butterfly saves and playing off angle along the goal line. Those were the calling cards of unorthodox long-time Wisconsin goaltending coach Bill Howard. Elliott began the transformation to a more efficient butterfly style and proper angle and recovery tactics under Mike Valley, who is now the goaltending coach for the Dallas Stars, during summer training sessions with Elite Goalies Schools.
The Senators lack of goaltending depth, however, left him trying to make those adjustments against the world’s best shooters.
They appear to be headed down a similarly dangerous path with Lehner, who recently told InGoal Magazine all the up-and-down between the NHL and AHL left him feeling unsettled and struggling to find his game at either level.
“We want Robin to play some games but he’s 19 years old,” Murray said. “He needs time.”
As for how Elliott, 25, fits with in Colorado, the notoriously low-spending Avalanche may be as interested in saving money the rest of this season as it is in saving pucks. Anderson was making $2.1 million the rest of this season, while Elliott is owed just $900,000 before becoming a restricted free agent this summer and as a ninth-round pick of the Senators in 2003, he won’t command much.
“Brian is an experienced NHL goaltender,” GM Greg Sherman said in a release. “We look forward to having him join our team.”
Much like the situation in Ottawa, Elliott won’t get much help from the Avalanche goaltending coaches. Kirk McLean, a surprising hire based again on an unwillingness to spend according to several sources, only spends a few days a month with the Avalanche.
Elliott, who signed with the Senators in 2007 after four seasons at Wisconsin, including the 2006 NCAA championship, has a 59-45-15 record and a .903 save percentage in 130 NHL games with the Senators. As a Canadian playing in Canada, he has work visa issues to solve before reporting to Colorado and isn’t expected to be available for Saturday’s game in San Jose, so the Avalanche has called up veteran John Grahame from Lake Erie of the AHL to serve as Budaj’s backup against the Sharks
Giguere’s groin acts up again, leaves Leafs suddenly short on stoppers
It’s hard to believe the Toronto Maple Leafs organization was worried about having too many goaltenders just a week ago.
Now they’re short on stoppers, and may even be in the market to add a few.
After losing Jonas Gustavsson to another minor heart operation late last week during a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League, Toronto lost prospect Jussi Rynnas for four weeks to a broken finger during a minor-league practice with the Marlies on Monday, and veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere went down to a recurring groin problem early in Wednesday’s win over Buffalo.
That left the Leafs with James Reimer and Ben Scrivens, a college free agent signing last summer who was playing in the ECHL a week ago, though General Manager Brian Burke told the Canadian Press Thursday morning he was “working” on the organization’s goaltender situation, and may need to add at least one, maybe two, ‘tenders, at least in the minor leagues.
For Giguere the timing is especially frustrating, as he was contemplating waiving his no-trade clause before the Feb. 28 deadline for deals in the hopes of landing on a legitimate contender. Instead the 33-year-old may face an uncertain future as an unrestricted free agent this summer after a season that has been filled with injury problems and inconsistencies.
“It’s different, but it might be related,” said Giguere, who pulled himself after turning aside nine shots in the first period, and has already spent two prolonged stretches out of action with groin problems. “I thought I was getting beyond the injury.”
Giguere saw a specialist Thursday, and Gustavsson was back on the ice Friday, exactly one week after having the heart ablation, but wasn’t sure if he’d be able to back up Reimer against Ottawa on Saturday. That left Scrivens, who was on the ice with the Marlies on Friday morning and expected to backstop them that night, but easily recallable given the AHL affiliate plays across town.
“Ben’s a good goalie,” Christian Hanson, Scrivens’ Marlies teammate, told the Toronto Star. “He came into a deep organization and doesn’t give up many bad goals. In fact, he doesn’t give up many goals in general.”
Hiller back on injured list with mysterious head problem
Jonas Hiller is out at least another week after recurring symptoms of the head problems that kept him out three games a week earlier.
Hiller missed three games after complaining of lightheadedness and fatigue just a few days after being hit in the mask twice during the All Star Game, and will now miss at least another three after experiencing dizziness and lightheadedness after practice Tuesday.
Despite symptoms that are consistent with a concussion, the Ducks continue to deny Hiller has one, even though he experienced significant relief of the symptoms after visiting a chiropractor in Vancouver that specializes in head injuries and concussions.
With recently signed Ray Emery a game-time decision – and it’s the goalie’s call to make – for his first start for Syracuse in the AHL on Friday night, the Ducks called up Timo Pielmeier from Elmira of the ECHL to backstop Curtis McElhinney for the time being.
According to the Orange County Register, Hiller will stay behind in Anaheim and for another battery of tests to pinpoint the cause of his dizziness, which came after he was hit up high in the shoulder by a shot and forced to leave Tuesday’s practice.
”I was under the impression he had taken a puck high in the body area, up into the shoulder area and just left the ice surface for an icing,” coach Randy Carlyle told The Register. “Later, he developed into [having] some dizziness and what not. Obviously the recurring symptoms that he had a week ago, that’s not a very good sign for us.”
Hiller, who takes more pucks off the head than most because he spends so much time on his knees (including one that made it through his cage and cut him above the eye for stitches earlier this season), was pulled after giving up three goals in the first period of a loss to San Jose on Feb. 2 – the first game after the All-Star break – and placed on injured reserve the next day. He sat out the Ducks’ next three games, but was back on the ice Feb. 8 in Vancouver, dressed as a backup Feb. 11 in Calgary, and stopped 12 shots to shut out Edmonton on Feb. 13. Things appeared to be going well in practice two days later before he came out of the net.
“He’s just saying he’s got that lightheadedness,” Carlyle told The Register after talking to Hiller. “He’s got to go through I would say a number of tests to cross off the list of things that quite possibility could be affecting this, from heart monitoring to equilibrium to chiropractic … that battery of tests to find out why he’s feeling the way he is.”
Halak back on injured reserve with hand problem
The St. Louis Blues will be without No.1 Jaroslav Halak for at least a week and at least two games after he was placed on injured reserve with what is believed to be a recurring hand injury on his blocker side.
While the Blues were careful not to say anything beyond the “upper-body injury” they cited when Halak missed 13 days recently, it was clear after his return he was having trouble even holding on to his stick, let alone using it to steer shots into corners. He left the ice shaking out his right hand during a Wednesday practice and hasn’t been back since.
“We’re calling it an upper body injury and he’s day to day,” coach Davis Payne told reporters in St. Louis.
The Blues recalled big Ben Bishop, a St. Louis native, from Peoria in the AHL for games Friday in Buffalo and Saturday against Anaheim, though Ty Conklin could still play both. But with six games in the next eight nights, seven in the next 10 in the midst of a fight to stay in the Western Conference playoff race, the Blues may have to play the 6-foot-7 Bishop, who had a .916 save percentage in the AHL, unless Halak comes back faster than expected.