In a swap of netminders, Senators general manager Bryan Murray announced this morning he'd obtained veteran Craig Anderson
from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Brian Elliott. It's the fourth deal Murray has engineered in the last nine days but the first to bring a new roster player into the Ottawa dressing room.
The 29-year-old Anderson was expected to arrive on a flight from Denver before game time tonight and serve as the backup to Robin Lehner
, who'll start tonight's contest against the Boston Bruins at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).
With Anderson scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency on July 1, the Senators see this as an opportunity to decide whether the native of Park Ridge, Ill., is the goaltender they want to take into the 2010-11 season as their potential starter. He is expected to play the bulk of Ottawa's 25 remaining games this season.
"The good thing about this is that we get a chance, for (25) games, to look at and watch (Anderson)," Murray told reporters following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "During that time period, I would think that we'll have discussions and we'll see where we want to be and he wants to be.
"He seemed very excited when I talked to him. It's a new opportunity for him as well, knowing full well that he's unrestricted and has a chance to explore the market over the summer. We'll find out (more) going forward."
Asked about the timing of the move, Murray said "I guess I didn't think our goatlending was good enough going forward."
"So we get a free look at Craig," he added. "We have unrestricted people rated and he was one of the people who were going to be available this summer that we liked, so we'll investigate it this way. We'll have to make other decisions if things change."
While Anderson's numbers have slipped this season (13-15-3, 3.28 GAA, .897 save percentage), he was a huge part of the Avalanche's surprising run to the playoffs last season. He logged 71 games during the regular season (38-25-7, 2.64, .917) and almost singlehandedly led an upset of the eventual Western Conference finalist San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs.
"We feel we’re (getting) a guy who maybe hasn’t played to the level he played last year, but he showed last year and the year before that he’s capable of putting a team on his shoulders and carrying them a long way," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "We’ve just got to make sure we’re giving him as much support as we possibly can and have a real good look at him."
"The good thing about this is that we get a chance, for (25) games, to look at and watch him. During that time period, I would think that we'll have discussions and we'll see where we want to be and he wants to be. (Anderson) seemed very excited when I talked to him. It's a new opportunity for him as well, knowing full well that he's unrestricted and has a chance to explore the market over the summer. We'll find out (more) going forward." - Bryan Murray
Added centre Jason Spezza
: "He's a guy that's capable of getting hot and played some good goal for Colorado. We hope he plays well here."
In the last two seasons, the Senators had Elliott penciled in as the backup to Pascal Leclaire. But with injuries plaguing Leclaire, it forced Ottawa to put the bulk of the goaltending weight on Elliott's shoulders. While the former ninth-round pick thrived in 2009-10 in backstopping the Senators to the playoffs, his performance slipped this season along with the rest of the team.
"It's the right thing to do," Clouston said of dealing Elliott to the Avs. "It's an opportunity for Brian to maybe start something somewhere else — kind of a new, fresh start. Things weren't working out as the season progressed.
"So much pressure was put on (Elliott) this season, especially with Pascal being injured. He's paid as a backup, I guess in theory he was supposed to be a backup but because of Pascal's injuries the past two seasons, he's been in a situation he maybe wasn't ready for."
It's also a situation the Senators want to avoid with Lehner, the organization's top goaltending prospect. Murray said he is hopeful Leclaire will be ready to at least dress as the backup by the middle of next week, freeing up Lehner to see plenty of American Hockey League duty with the Binghamton Senators.
"We want Robin to play some games (but) he’s 19 years old," said Murray. "To be fair to him, he has to play quite a bit in the American Hockey League to get his game refined to the point that, when he comes to the (NHL), when he lets in a goal, that he can put it aside and just play. I think he’s got the strength of character to do that, but he needs time. Our hope is that (acquiring Anderson) helps him a great deal."
Meanwhile, the Senators will move forward with a much more youthful lineup that also no longer includes Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly and Jarkko Ruutu, all dealt away for draft picks in the last week. Veteran blueliners Sergei Gonchar
and Chris Campoli are also out for at least a week with lower-body injuries and captain Daniel Alfredsson
remains sidelined for the rest of the month.
"We expected (changes) a little bit but I don't think we expected anything to happen this quick," said Spezza, mindful of the Senators' 18-30-9 record and 15th-place standing in the Eastern Conference. "We've put ourselves in a situation where we have to deal with it. You lose a lot of friends, but it is what it is and you have to be professional and move on."
Said forward Nick Foligno
: "It's unfortunate that it had to come to this ... But you see what can come of it and look at the positives. There are going to be guys that are put into situations that (give) them a chance to grow as players. It's a great opportunity for a lot of guys and that's how you have to look at it."