Craig Anderson gets Four Years, $12.75-Million from Senators
Plus memories of Run Tugnutt’s 70-save game vs. Boston in today’s update…
Craig Anderson soured in Colorado when the Avalanche ended all contract talks after their MVP during the previous season reportedly turned down a two-year, $7.5-million, and his play quickly followed his mood.
The Ottawa Senators must be hoping a happy Anderson will mean a return to that impressive form from 2009-10 after giving the 29-year-old journeyman $12.75 million reasons to smile with a surprising four-year contract extension on Monday.
“For me, it’s not about the money, it’s about having a good fit and finding a place where I’m going to be happy, where players are treated with respect and the organization communicates with their players,” Anderson told reporters in Ottawa after the signing, praising his new employer while also appearing to take a backhanded swipe at his former organization.
“And from Day 1, I’ve had great talks with the coaching staff, the goalie coach, the general manager, they’ve all gone out of their way to make me feel like I’m a part of the team. You can’t put a price tag on that.”
Anderson certainly showed signs of improvements after getting out of Colorado, posting a 47-save shutout of Toronto in his first game with the cellar-dwelling Senators and going 6-4-0 with a .938 save percentage in his first 11 appearances before missing the last three games with a lower body injury. He was just 13-15-3 with an .897 save percentage for the Avalanche.
“Goaltending is and will be one of the important building blocks consistent with our plan to improve the team moving forward,” general manager Bryan Murray said. “Craig has provided a level of confidence to this team and this organization that was lacking early in the season, and we feel he is the type of person and player that will be a big part of our organization’s future success.”
It’s a big commitment for the Senators, both in terms of length and the $3.18 annual salary cap hit, for a goalie plagued by injury this season and short on long-term success. Immediate reaction from around the NHL was critical of either one, the other, or both.
The salary may have been less than Anderson turned down in Colorado, but that was before the bottom fell out of the goaltending market, with similarly pedigreed players like Dan Ellis (two years for $3 million in Tampa Bay), Antero Niittymaki (two years, $4 million in San Jose) and Chris Mason ($3.7 million over 2 years in Atlanta) signing free agent deals for less money and term.
What it means for others Senators puck-stoppers
General Manager Bryan Murray told reporters that oft-injured would-be No.1 goalie Pascal Leclaire, who had a $4.8 million salary and $3.8 million cap hit this season, won’t be back next year. So Anderson’s contract actually represents a cost saving for the Senators.
So what does it mean for the rest of the Senators’ goalies? Actually there’s only one under contract for next season (current backup Curtis McElhinney, added in a waiver claim from Tampa Bay, is a free agent on July 1), 19-year-old prospect Robin Lehner.
While even Murray has admitted the brash young Swede believes he can play in the NHL right now, Lehner told InGoal that all the back and forth between the NHL and American Hockey League was causing confidence issues.
Even if he is upset about having to spend at least all of next season in the AHL, as Murray indicated would be the case, there’s no shortage of good examples in the NHL this season of the value of a long apprenticeship in the AHL: Cory Schneider, Corey Crawford, Michael Neuvirth, Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier have all talked about the importance of their time there to success in the big leagues.
Anderson’s new deal is worth about $700,000 less per season that the San Jose Sharks’ salary cap hit for Antti Niemi’s new four-year, $15.2 million contract almost three weeks earlier, though as Anderson himself pointed out after that deal was announced, Niemi has a Stanley Cup championship on his resume. But Anderson’s contract is for twice the length, and almost $1 million more per season than the two-year, $4.5 million extension the Detroit Red Wings handed to second-year NHL starter Jimmy Howard in early March.
The Senators made it clear they intended to pursue Anderson as a free agent on July 1 before getting a sneak peak by trading Brian Elliott to Colorado in mid-February. So the question then is whether the Senators could have gotten him for less on an open market this summer that will also include Florida standout Tomas Vokoun and Phoenix Coyotes’ star Ilya Bryzgalov?
Murray didn’t think so, though there are a number on other contracts he’d probably like a mulligan on.
“He was a guy that we felt we had a chance to sign,” Murray told reporters. “The numbers made sense for us.”
The other question then is whether Anderson can be a better goalie than those recent signings. Perhaps more to the point, can he be as good a fit with the rebuilding Senators as the evolving Niemi has become in San Jose and the aggressive Howard has always been in Detroit?
Anderson certainly looked like a good fit the first month there. Of course, he also looked great his first season in Colorado.
Just one season removed from receiving Hart and Vezina Trophy votes with the Avalanche, Anderson struggled mightily to match that level in a season slowed by groin and knee injuries, but the real problem may have been Colorado’s unwillingness to even talk about a contract extension for the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, who signed a two-year, $3.6-million free agent deal in the summer of 2009. And while that raises questions about both his attitude and mental toughness, Anderson, who is an eight-year NHL veteran who had bounced around among five teams before finally appearing to have a couple of breakthrough seasons, may simply be one of many NHL players who doesn’t deal well with contract uncertainty, just as others play their best only when they need a new one.
His comments on NHL.com after the deal was announced certainly indicated that was part of the problem:
“It’s good to finally have that solidification where I can just go out there and play and worry about performing on the ice. It’s great to get something long-term done,” said Anderson, who is also reportedly about to start a family. “For me, you just want to set some roots down and really grow with the guys. I think when you get some shorter-term contracts it’s tough to grow with the group.”
Either way it’s hard to argue the Senators have a goalie with a history of playing well behind poor – and porous – teams. It started in Florida, where he posted save percentages of .931, .935, and .924 to earn the Colorado contract, and continued with a .917 performance, seven shutouts and an NHL-leading 2,047 saves to get the Avalanche to the playoffs last season.
Again, you could argue he is at his best when expectations are low. You could also argue it’s a function of how he plays his best – well outside of the blue ice, challenging shooters outside the crease – and the fact opponents are less likely to target and bear down on exposing the weaknesses that style exposes (backdoors, intentionally wide shots off the kick plate, and traffic to drive him back into the net, all strategies teams had success with even last season) because of his team’s position overall.
One thing is already clear, though: Anderson appears happier in Ottawa than he was in Colorado.
Only more time will tell if a happy Anderson will be enough for the Senators.
20th Anniversary of Run Tugnutt’s 70-save game vs. Boston
Puckdaddy has a fantastic look back at one of the best games played by a goaltender when the not-quite-journeyman Tugnutt stoned the Bruins with a 70-save effort in a 3-3 tie. The AP report of the game noted Ray Bourque – himself taking 19 shots at the Nordique Net – said of the performance:
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Boston’s Ray Bourque, who took 19 shots, including one from point-blank range that was stopped by Tugnutt with 8 seconds remaining in overtime. “On that last one, I saw all net, nothing but net, and I thought, ‘No way he’s gonna get this.’ I shot it as hard as I could, with a guy in front of him, and he still caught it.”