The Ottawa Senators continued their rebuilding ways Friday, acquiring soon to be unrestricted free agent goaltender Craig Anderson in a one-for-one trade with the Colorado Avalanche for struggling netminder Brian Elliott.
Anderson is an interesting commodity for the Sens, a 30-year-old who had a spectacular year for the Avs last season, but had struggled in the second half of this year and clearly was no longer in their future plans. Elliott at 25, is five years younger, and a restricted free agent at the end of the season, meaning he could have a future in Colorado.
But if Anderson can bounce back and get his game back on the rails in the final two months he may finally give the Senators the goaltending stability they've lacked all season long.
General manager Bryan Murray acknowledged as much, suggesting the reason behind the move was pretty straightforward: "I didn't think our goaltending was good enough going forward."
By acquiring Anderson now rather than waiting for the July 1 free-agent season to begin, the Senators get "a free look at Craig," said Murray. "We have unrestricted people rated ... and we think he's one of the guys that was going to be available that we liked. We'll investigate this way."
Though Anderson appeared in 33 games for Colorado this season and was only 13-15-3 with a 3.28 GAA and .897 save percentage, he ranked seventh in wins (39) and third in shutouts (7) for the Avalanche last year during their unexpected surge to the playoffs. As a goaltender, Anderson usually thrives in situations where he gets a lot of work, and in his years playing for the Florida Panthers, won an inordinate number of games after facing 40 shots or more.
On a rebuilding Ottawa team that has already shipped Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly and Jarko Ruutu out of town, he will likely see lots of rubber and will view this as a fresh start.
Murray cited the example of the Boston Bruins, a team that this year received exceptional goaltending from Tim Thomas, which has had the effect of making every other part of their team play better as well.
"It's a team," said Murray. "That's why we play this game - to win games. It requires the team to be together and we haven't been together."
Anderson will not arrive in Ottawa in time to play Friday against Boston, meaning 19-year-old Robin Lehner will get the start. Once Pascal LeClaire returns from IR, the plan is to send Lehner back to the minors for further development and finish the year with Anderson and LeClaire.
"He's 19," said Murray, "but he needs time. The hope is this (sending him down) helps him a great deal - and it helps our players too, in that they say we're not just walking away or that everything I do is just for a draft pick. We're bringing a guy back that's credible, more than credible. We think he's a very good goaltender."
Elliott was Ottawa's ninth choice (ninth round, 291st overall) in the 2003 Entry Draft, and had a 59-45-15 career record with a 2.81 GAA and .903 save percentage in 130 NHL appearances. Prior to turning pro, the 6-foot-3 netminder played four seasons at the University of Wisconsin (WCHA), where he backstopped the Badgers to the 2006 NCAA championship.