Risky Business – Senators Sign Craig Anderson to Four Year Extension

To add some humor to today’s Bryan Murray press conference, he should have started things by asking the press corps whether or not they wanted the good news or bad news first.

The good news! Give us the good news!

“Pascal Leclaire will not be extended a contract offer by the Ottawa Senators.”

(Upon the announcement Don Brennan and Bruce Garrioch slap some high-fives.)

Phew! And the bad?

The Senators have given Craig Anderson a 4-year contract extension worth $12.75 million dollars. (According to Capgeek, this brings Ottawa’s cap situation to approximately $42 million next season.)

(Groan.)

In his comments today, Murray said, “Obviously, we feel that he’s brought stability. His position is one that we need if you’re going to retool, rebuild, improve this hockey club going forward. I believe our players have played with confidence with both Curtis and him. But very definitely, Craig has stepped in and allowed our team to play hockey the way that we think we need to play going forward. With that secure building block, now we can address some other issues.”

Address some issues? Maybe my friend had it right when he told me over the phone at the time that the deal was announced, “I guess the organization really wanted to put another face up on the front of SBP.”

Kidding aside, Anderson is a serviceable player and given the parameters of his deal — he earns $2.75, $3.0, $3.5, and $3.5 million in the four years of his deal — the money involved isn’t the issue here. It’s the term of the contract that makes me uncomfortable. With an average cap hit of $3.1875 million per year, the monetary value of the deal isn’t really that egregious. Even though the deal doesn’t include a movement or trade clause — a moral victory when looking at some of the contracts handed out by Murray in the past — there’s still a ton of inherent risk involved here. As Adrian Dater noted in a blog article for the Denver Post, Anderson allegedly turned down a 2-year $7.5 million deal last summer. And if you look at the deal that Ottawa gave him, Anderson forsaked a higher monetary figure on a short-term deal but that money is slightly outweighed by the fact that he can collect millions of guaranteed money by taking Ottawa’s  four year offer now. Personally, I find it worrisome that an Avalanche team that has no in-house goaltending solution and was trending downward on the date that the deal was made (February 18th) was so apprehensive about committing to a lengthy deal with him.

As The Goalie Guild noted in their assessment of the extension, very few goalies are being signed for more than two years right now, so this becomes a risky deal for the Senators. They have gone through a number of starting goalies over the last five years, and with only one Vezina-caliber season under his belt as a starter, there’s very little guarantee he will regain his form from the 2009-10 season and sustain it for more than a year. He wasn’t able to live up to last year’s expectations this season, and you can’t just blame a weak team for his struggles.

[…]

In that regard, it’s a great deal for Anderson, but one that I feel is quite risky for the Senators. Therefore I do consider this contract to be over-paying for Anderson’s services. Maybe not over the next two years, but years three and four are very risky, especially with Lehner expected to be ready for a full-time NHL gig in two more years.

It’s like a red flag that has me asking questions like: what is the catch?  And beyond his love of corvettes and the Odd Rods mask design, who is the real Craig Anderson?

“I know the real Craig Anderson. When I made the trade to acquire him to start off with. He was a guy that in real form, we had a real chance to get him here and get talking to him to sign. There were other goaltenders, very few unrestricted this year. The numbers made sense for us in that we knoww that Phoenix had a goaltender and Calgary had a goaltender that were going to be unrestricted. And certainly out of respect to them and their organizations… I really feel that they’ll be kept with the… it’s not Calgary, it’s Florida that I meant. They will probably try and keep their goaltender,” Murray said, “Getting Craig here and getting a chance to know him. I’ve watched him play for a number of years in this league. So I know the real Craig Anderson. I know the guy in Florida. I know the guy in Colorado. I just wanted to see him fit in this room; what he could bring to a younger group. Give us some confidence and stability and I believe that he’s done that.”

In the interim, the move looks good on Murray’s part because he has essentially parlayed a sieve Elliott for a goalie who could (emphasis on could) bring some accountability to the goaltending position. But as a rebuilding or retooling team, the conclusion of Anderson’s four year deal is an awfully long ways away. The organization could be painting itself into the corner with a deal of this length. Especially when we’re discussing a 29-year old goaltender who has already had some knee and groin problems and lacks a proven track record. Granted, he had an exceptional season in Colorado last year but as we’ve seen from the likes of Pascal Leclaire or Ray Emery, sometimes it’s difficult to replicate success. And compounding matters slightly, is the unresolved contract status of Bryan Murray. When you wonder about what his future with the organization is, it’s tough not to question whether the long term deals — like the ones offered to Anderson and Chris Phillips — are the kinds of moves that Murray should be leaving for his (potential) successor?

It’s a fair question and ultimately, it is a signing like this that reinforces the belief that Murray will stick around for the foreseeable future. Looking at the sheer volume of the goaltenders that Murray’s regime has re-signed or traded for — Emery, Alex Auld, Elliott, Leclaire and now Anderson — it almost mirrors the number of coaches that he’s burned through. At what point does ownership evaluate Murray’s personnel and coaching decisions and start holding him accountable for what has happened over the course of the past few seasons?

Albeit, Anderson’s played well in the short period of time that he’s been here but it’s not like he has experienced the wrath of the fans or media who will inevitably call his performance into question after a string of poor performances.

Judging by Murray’s comments, he thinks Anderson will be able to cope.

“He’s a good guy. That he’s a person that can interract with the players. That he obviously cares. The other thing that you try to find out is that when you get to a market like here where we’ve got some very tough customers to deal with, that he can handle that. That he wanted to be here and that was the one thing that I wanted to find out. You get here and you play some games. Do you really want to be here? And you kind of interact with him a little bit to make sure that he’s that kind of character.”

However, let’s not pretend as though Anderson has been faced with adversity thus far. The team has been playing in a low pressure situation since the trade deadline. And at some point, the honeymoon will be over for Anderson and the fans and media will resume their micro-analysis and dissection of every goal that’s allowed. How will he be able to adjust and adapt to playing under the Canadian market microscope when so many before him have struggled?

“Patty (Lalime) was way older than my time. Dominik Hasek was supposed to be that. Obviously the injury to him at the wrong time really affected us. I’m not sure. Maybe our expectations of goaltending are so high. We all know the dramatic effect it has, as I’ve said, and maybe nobody can reach that level,” Murray said, “If don’t know. If you name the top goaltender in the league and we brought him in and he let in a bad goal some night, it’d be pointed out so often that it would devastate him. I don’t know. It seems that when I watch many games a night, there are many, many bad goals let in by the best goaltenders in the game and they go back in the next night and play. Maybe we’re just difficult to satisfy. I don’t know.”

It’s a tad ironic that two seasons ago, the aforementioned Leclaire was brought in under similar circumstances. At the time, Murray said, “I think the first thing we had to try to accomplish here was to get better in one particular area and that’s goaltending. We have solid guys, but to have a chance to get a top-end goaltender is a priority in any organization. The ones that have success normally have that.”

Ottawa hasn’t had sustained success at the goaltending position since well… ever. Hopefully they finally got this one right. Hopefully Murray knows the real Craig Anderson.

Looking At Other Things That Murray Said:

- In response to a question about where he sees Robin Lehner,

“Still leaves him as a 19 year old. He hasn’t gotten any experience at the pro level to speak of. I had a real good meeting with him last week. He has to go down and play and become what we think he is going to become. He’s not going to be at the top of his game I don’t believe within a year. I think it will take a couple years for him to really be the guy. But there’s nothing wrong with having him be with an experienced guy, as I’ve mentioned with, who seems really open with talking to him and working with him as well. And we have that security to allow him to develop to what we think he has a chance to be.”

[…]

“I told him that in the meeting that I probably should have signed an older, more established guy and put him on the bus in Binghamton. But you know what, it’s all about the mental state of the player. If he goes down, works hard and plays decent and gets some games in that league, it won’t be bad for him. He doesn’t think (being up with the NHL club but not playing) it hurt him. He thinks being here with the shooters, the goaltending coach and the practices have been a good thing for him. He feels very comfortable about it. As a management guy, I’ve always felt that playing games is more important than practicing.”

- On the importance of what a number one goalie can do for you,

“Today is only about the goaltender. What I had was an opportunity to make some changes because of the results we were having – which weren’t very good as you know. And it’s been clearly pointed out and rightly so. And all I’m trying to do is make sure this organization is put in a position where it’s much more competitive going forward. And I think this is obviously… Mr. Melnyk is a big part of this. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the plan. The idea of re-establishing this team as a perennial contending team. So we made the decision that goaltending was a real priority and we wanted to make sure that going forward… now if I go out to recruit a free agent, I think you can can use this. Now we’ve got some security in goal; a core of defencemen who look like they’re very capable. And if we have to put another piece or two in place over the summer, it might be an easier sell for me to go to other people or whomever is in this position.”

Please, please, please stay away from the quick fix and free agency.

- On whether Curtis McElhinney can come back into the fold next season,

“I’m not sure. I just try to do one project at a time here. I really like the way that Curtis has played. I mean, I just kiddingly said to Phil (Legault) that they can’t even score on him – now maybe that’s just us. Now he looked really good in practice again today and he’s played well in the two games that he’s played. He looks like a great kid. That he really cares about it. Obviously, he’s unrestricted. We’ll have to address that one time or another in the not too distant future, but today’s about Craig Anderson.”

- On what happened to the goaltending situation this season and what we can look forward to next season,

“Both goaltenders that started (the year) here won’t be here. We won’t be extending the contracts of the two guys at the start of the year here. One’s gone and the other one has a health issue. So we’ll have two different goaltenders here. I’m hoping that Robin will be able to go down(to Binghamton) and be part of the two man package down there. I’m not sure what I’m doing with Barry Brust. With the t-shirts and all the other scenarios going on down there, I may not be be allowed to do anything other than re-sign him. But we’ll see about that at the time. We’ll have to acquire another goaltender as well. We’ve had five guys out at different times this year. We have to get depth in that area. I’ve talked to the scouts already about at some point in the draft, we should draft a goaltender. Without a doubt so that we have a young guy coming along. The years go by fairly quickly here and it takes a long time in that position to develop to your potential. Most of the good ones, not all of them, but most of the good ones are 25 and older before they really get going. And we recognize that and with Craig being 29 years of age, it gives us, we hope, a real sure guy who can bridge the gap until another guy comes along. Which always happens.”

I wouldn’t be less concerned about Lehner’s development stagnating because of some public relations garbage, if it wasn’t already happening at the NHL level. Just saying. As I had joked on Twitter, if Lehner has a target to hunt for the next four seasons, I’m going start referring to him as Captain Ahab.

Audio From the Press Conference:

To listen to the full press conference, you can stream it below.

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