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Senators, Anderson find perfect match in goal

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
In just a month in Ottawa, Craig Anderson showed Senators management he's the right goaltender the need to stabilize the position for the present and near future (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).
RALEIGH, N.C. — Almost from the moment he first arrived, Craig Anderson felt like he'd found himself an ideal hockey home in Ottawa.

"The day I showed up here, I showed up halfway through the first and they put my face up on the (scoreboard)," the 29-year-old goaltender said in recalling the Feb. 18 trade that brought him to the Senators from the Colorado Avalanche. "The ovation I got just put a smile on my face and I knew right from the get-go that I’d be happy here."

Anderson had even bigger reason to smile today as he inked a four-year contract that will keep him in Ottawa through the 2014-15 season. In his short time here, the native of Park Ridge, Ill., has brought a stability to the position that general manager Bryan Murray believes is necessary for the Senators to prosper in both the present and future.

"We feel he's brought stability," Murray said in announcing the signing of Anderson. "The (goaltending) position is one that we need if we're going to retool, rebuild and improve this hockey team going forward. Very definitely, Craig has stepped in and allowed our team to play hockey the way we think we have to play going forward.

"We all know that if you don't have some stability in goal, you don't have a chance (to win) in this league on a regular basis. I really felt that just getting a guy that was more experienced ... that getting this kind of person in position would clear the decks for other things that need to be done."

Ottawa fans didn't take long to truly warm up to Anderson, especially after he blanked the provincial rival Maple Leafs 1-0 in his Senators debut Feb. 19 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. He's posted a 6-4-1 record here so far with impressive goals against average (2.11) and save percentage (.938) numbers.

"It’s been a great spot here to come in and show what I can do," said Anderson. "The fans have been very welcoming and made it very easy for me to make my decision to want to play here. My first impression of the organization and the city and Bryan Murray has just been an unbelievable first impression.

"From the moment I got here, the people in the organization have really taken the time to go out of their way to make me feel like I’m at home and have done everything they can to make my time here as easy as possible."

Anderson's calming presence, meanwhile, has made life easier for a team that got much younger following a series of pre-trade deadline deals — and will stay that way heading into next season as the Senators retool their lineup for the future.

"Andy's come in and played great for us," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "He's stopping pucks, he's communicated well with the defence and he plays the puck better than probably any goaltender we've ever had. It eases the pressure a bit on our defence that way.

"Just to get a guy like him locked up and not let him go to free agency is a big move for the franchise."

While it's possible Anderson could have commanded a more lucrative contract on the open market — he was scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency on July 1 — he considered other priorities more important. He and his wife, Nicole, are expected their first child in July and wanted the stability of a long-term contract.

"It's not about the money," said Anderson. "It's about finding a good fit and finding a place where I'm going to be happy, where players are treated with respect and the organization communicates with their players. From Day 1, I've had some great talks with the coaching staff, the general manager ... they've all gone out of their way to make me feel like I'm a part of the team and it's just been a great feeling, one that makes you smile and makes you want to come to the rink. You can't put a price on that."

With Anderson now in the fold and veteran defenceman Chris Phillips signed to a three-year contact extension on Feb. 28, Murray has checked off two of his biggest needs heading into next season. But he believes it's the stability in goal, in particular, which will matter most in terms of getting potential free agents to consider the Senators come July 1.

"We made the decision that goaltending was a real priority and we wanted to make sure (of that) going forward," he said. "If I go out to recruit a free agent, I can use this. We've got security in goal and we've got a core of defencemen that look like they're very capable. If we have to put another piece or two in place over the summer, it might be an easier sell when we go to other (potential free agents)."

Anderson, meanwhile, doesn't need to be sold anymore. He's found his home.

"My wife was here for a couple of days and she really enjoyed the city," he said. "It's just something that we're really looking forward to, growing with the guys here and growing with the fans. It's great to get something long term done. You just want to set some roots down."

After earlier stops in Chicago, Florida and Colorado where — except for a standout season with the Avs in 2009-10 — he wasn't able to establish himself as a long-term starter, Anderson is looking forward to taking the ball and running with it. And if that comes along with more intense scrutiny in a hockey-mad Canadian market, so be it.

"For most guys, playing in a Canadian market is a dream come true," said Anderson. "A lot of guys want to be in that spotlight where hockey means something to the fans, hockey means something to the city and it means something to the country."

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