What If Wednesday – The Craig Anderson Trade Edition

Welcome to a new feature on The 6th Sens – What if…? Wednesdays. The principle is straight forward. Each week one of us will ask a question and then to the best of our abilities, we will try to answer the hypothetical scenario of how things may have worked out instead.

According to the Red Line Report’s Kyle Woodlief, the Senators desperately want Landeskog and will try to trade up with Colorado to ensure they get him.

In light of these rumours, our first What if…? Wednesday question will address the question, “What if the Senators didn’t trade for Craig Anderson when the team had the NHL’s second worst record?”

Well, the immediate consequence of such a turn of events would have been more underwhelming Brian Elliott performances. Often cited by management and a coaching staff as a player who was ill equipped to shoulder the workload given to him once Pascal Leclaire sustained his season ending injury, the likelihood that Elliott would have continued to defecate the mattress was high – much higher than his save percentage of .894.

Is it fair to pin most of last season’s disappointing campaign at Elliott’s doorstep? No, probably not. Injuries, players trying to rebound off of injuries, the regression of “key” veteran players and the inability of the coaching staff to effectively communicate and handle their players were all contributing factors.

Nonetheless, Brian Elliott’s season was such an unmitigated disaster that by the time that he left town, he had soured to the point of rarely talked to the team’s beat writers and fans were left wondering how this shell of a man wound up with three shutouts. Here are his numbers from his final season in Ottawa:

Year Team GP GS MIN W L T OTL EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2010-11 OTT 43 39 2293 13 19 0 8 4 122 3.19 1147 1025 .894 3

From what we know, Leclaire never suited up for another game down the stretch — although he did make one appearance in Binghamton before going on the LTIR — and without an Anderson trade, Elliott and heralded rookie Robin Lehner would have been asked to share the duties for the remainder of the season.

Could they have replicated what Anderson did down the stretch?

Looking at Anderson’s numbers, the answer is a resounding hells no. (Note: And looking ahead to next season, his save percentage and GAA are unsustainable with the talent that’s currently surrounding him. )

Year Team GP GS MIN W L T OTL EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2010-11 OTT 18 18 1055 11 5 0 1 1 36 2.05 589 553 .939 2

When Anderson was brought in, he arrived at a time when the organization was ridding itself of some veteran players like Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu, Alexei Kovalev and Mike Fisher. With the promotion of some AHL-talent coinciding with Anderson’s arrival, the complacency that had so noticeably set in was finally removed. And much like an impending UFA in Anderson, this influx of prospects was playing for one-way deals and the result was predictable – better effort, better results.

But without that stability in net, would Ottawa’s prized prospects developed the same level of residual confidence and chemistry that they displayed during their Calder Cup winning run through the AHL playoffs?

Probably not and there would be far less public swing for keeping Bryan Murray around. It was just an unforeseen benefit to a trade that Murray was motivated to make for three reasons:

1) To give Craig Anderson an audition for the starter’s role and to see how he fares in this marketplace.
2) It gave the organization an exclusive window of opportunity to re-sign the goaltender.
3) Self preservation.

Looking at the third consideration, I think it’s reasonable to presume that had Murray not pulled the trigger on that deal and seen improved results, his job could have been in jeopardy. And who knows? Maybe if Murray was fired, his successor might have been may not have had the authority or clout to talk Melnyk out of his first choice of head coach, Dave Cameron.

And what of Anderson?

Had he remained in Colorado for the duration of the campaign and continued to flounder there under Joe Sacco’s watch, what would his stock have been on July 1st? Could the Senators have had him for a cheaper cost and shorter term?

Judging by the rumoured monetary figures and term being attributed to an Ilya Bryzgalov extension in Philadelphia, it’s tough to say. Like any other village, the NHL circles also have their idiots whenever the free agent signing period begins.

Or, maybe Anderson returns to his 2009-10 form, re-signs with the Avalanche and thereby prevents the Senators from mirroring the Flyers’ model by acquiring Anderson’s negotiation rights at the end of the season. In consequence, Ottawa would have been left with the decision of non-tendering Elliott and having only Lehner under contract. With such a relatively weak class of free agent goalies, Ottawa would have been lucky to avoid a lottery position next season.

Of course had Anderson continued to struggle, without that sample size of success, it would have been difficult for Senators fans to get behind such a move. Especially after considering the manner in which Leclaire’s career flamed out here in the nation’s capital.

Considering the circumstances and the manner in which things have worked out, the ascent in standings from 2nd worst to 6th worst is palatable because of the combination of Anderson’s extension and the development and success of the prospects in Binghamton (ie. Lehner and Cowen). Barring some ridiculous overpayment to move up from 6th to an earlier draft spot, the Anderson trade was worth it and thus far, has worked out about as well as anyone could have expected.

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