The Ottawa Senators believe they have one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL, and they acted Monday to ensure it will remain that way past this season.
The Senators and goaltender Craig Anderson agreed to terms on a three-year, $12.6 million extension that keeps Anderson under contract through the end of the 2017-18 season.
It comes a little more than three weeks after the Senators announced a three-year, $6.675 million contract for restricted free agent goaltender Robin Lehner.
Anderson will make $4.75 million in each of the first two years and $3.1 million in the final year, for an average annual value of $4.2 million.
Combined, the two goaltenders will have an NHL salary-cap charge of $6.45 million as of the 2015-16 season, which will be lower than the cap charge for Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers ($8.5 million), Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins ($7 million), Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators ($7 million) and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens ($6.5 million), according to CapGeek.com.
Having Anderson and Lehner each under contract until at least the 2016-17 season leaves the Senators very confident in their goaltending for the foreseeable future.
"We felt signing Craig, we probably have one of the best tandems in the League," Senators assistant general manager Pierre Dorion said. "It was a very simple thought process. As a management group, and always through [general manager] Bryan Murray, having two guys that can always win games for us was something important. Both guys push each other."
Anderson, 33, said he has a good relationship with Lehner, 23, and that having each other to compete against ultimately will push them to be better.
"Over the last couple of years I've seen him turn into a real pro," Anderson said of Lehner. "I think it's going to be good for the team when we're both playing well, to push each other to continue to give the team two good options. That's all you can ask for. If I do my job, it will make him to do his job better, and when he does his job, it's going to make me do my job better."
Anderson is coming off a difficult season when he finished 34th among eligible NHL goalies with a .911 save percentage in 53 games and 44th with a 3.00 goals-against average. Lehner's numbers were in the same ballpark as Anderson's; he had a .913 save percentage and 3.06 GAA in 36 games. They were the worst seasons of their respective careers, which may suggest the problem was more based on what was happening in front of them.
"I felt, obviously, I could have been better," Anderson said. "But as a group we all could have been better. When everyone does a little bit better job, the whole team gets a lot better. That's what our focus will be going forward. If everyone can be just a little bit better, including myself, it will go a long way to the team concept of winning hockey games."
Anderson will be 37 when his new contract expires, something that does not concern Dorion or the Senators.
"He plays with us until he's in his mid-thirties, and we feel that goalies through the years, even right now, are still performing at that age," Dorion said.
Dorion also confirmed that neither Anderson nor Lehner has a no-trade clause in his contract.
"It was just something in the negotiations that we felt was important to have," he said.
The recent history of goaltending tandems without a clear-cut starter has not produced great results, particularly when it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The St. Louis Blues are the most recent example of a team that relied on two goaltenders equally, with Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak; they attempted to rectify that last season by acquiring Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres prior to the NHL Trade Deadline, though Miller did not live up to expectations.
But Anderson said there is a positive effect to knowing there is someone looking to take your ice time, comparing it to going to the gym by yourself as opposed to going with a trainer who will push you to do a bit more with your workout.
"It's such a unique position," Anderson said. "When you're a forward, you play anywhere from six minutes to 16 minutes a night. Depending on how well you play that night, you could get more or less. From a goalie's standpoint, if you don't perform, you're sitting on the bench watching every night for 60 minutes. So there's definitely that factor to push you a little bit harder, maybe to do a couple of extra reps at practice. It's one of those things where normally you would still do those things, but now you have a constant reminder."
The signing of Anderson, who would have been an unrestricted free agent next July, follows a pattern of pre-emptive strikes by the Senators front office this offseason. Ottawa signed forward Clarke MacArthur to a five-year, $23.25 million contract extension and defenseman Mark Borowiecki to a three-year, $3.3 million extension last week.
Each player had one season left on his contract, just as Anderson does. Dorion said the Senators are working on extensions for forward Bobby Ryan and defenseman Marc Methot, each of whom is entering the final year of his contract.
The Senators have had a lot of offseason drama to deal with over the past 14 months or so, starting with the departure of captain Daniel Alfredsson as a free agent last summer and culminating with the team granting the trade request of his successor as captain, Jason Spezza, this summer, shipping him to the Dallas Stars.
It appears they are looking to avoid a third straight summer of discontent and attempting to build some continuity on the roster.
"I think in a way it shows our fans that we're trying to do things as well and as efficiently as possible. But the biggest thing is no distractions," Dorion said. "I think it's a sign from our ownership that we're making a long-term commitment to try and win as long as we can."