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March 23, 2011
Illegal Curve
Craig Anderson's Contract

by Richard Pollock

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The Ottawa Senators have been interested in acquiring a top-notch netminder seemingly forever. Fans have seen the likes of Patrick Lalime, Ray Emery, Tom Barasso, Pascal Leclaire, Dominik Hasek, Ron Tugnutt and Damian Rhodes succeed to varying degrees; however, none of those netminders, at least at the time they suited up for the Senators, provided consistent above-average netminding.

Maybe it is that organizational black hole that explains Bryan Murray's rationale behind signing the recently acquired Craig Anderson to a four-year contract extension.

The late-blooming American netminder was recently acquired from the Colorado Avalanche for former Wisconsin Badgers netminder Brian Elliot. Elliot was not able to prove himself in Ottawa and Murray did a nice job turning the not yet established Elliot into the somewhat proven Anderson. The compliments for that deal accompanied Murray's work in acquiring fairly high draft picks for the likes of Chris Kelly and Mike Fisher. Murray, in fact, was some experts' pick for the biggest winner over the time leading to and including the NHL trade deadline.

If Murray was applauded for such transactions then why was his recent signing of Anderson, the very topic of this article, somewhat vilified in the media?

There have been a number of goaltender contracts doled out over the past few weeks. As such, this presents us with the ability to use "comparables" to better gauge what exactly the market was bearing at the time of the Anderson signing.

Let's use two recently signed netminders in this analysis: Jimmy Howard and Antti Niemi. Here are some relevant statistics to help analyze the three netminders (all of whom would have been unrestricted free agents at the end of 2010-11):

Netminder	Age	ESSV% 10-11	ESSV% 09-10	Career SV%	Career GP
Anderson	29	.913		.926		.912		224
Niemi		27	.928		.914		.914		94
Howard		26	.915		.925		.916		128

Now, let's consider the contracts the above three netminders were recently signed to:

Netminder	Years signed	Total value	Annual cap hit
Anderson	4		$12.75M		$3.18
Niemi		4		$15.20M		$3.80
Howard		2		$4.50M		$2.25

Looking at the top chart before the bottom chart makes one think that some of the numbers in the bottom chart are out of line. All three netminders are within approximately three years of each other in terms of age and all were pending unrestricted free agents. The numbers of games played varies somewhat but none of them have been in the NHL long considering they are all in their mid to late 20s. These three late bloomers made out quite well for themselves in terms of cash moving forward, but was Kenny Holland ahead of the pack when it came to penning those very deals?

Looking at the career save percentages between the three netminders leaves very little room to maneuver. The trio is within .02 of each other and the three have fluctuated fairly significantly in even strength save percentage since last season. Those overly convinced that Antti Niemi is the next one in San Jose need only look at the even strength save percentages of Anderson and Howard last season to see how many goaltenders' performance fluctuate from year to year.

From the above numbers, it appears that Doug Wilson paid substantially more and for substantially longer for a netminder, in Niemi, that has not proven to be much better (never mind $1.55 million per season better) than Jimmy Howard.

Kenny Holland has long been a proponent of not locking up big money into his netminders and it appears that Wilson, who some believed began to adopt that same philosophy (see Niittymaki and Niemi signings this summer), has already abandoned ship. Remember that the Sharks paid big money to Evgeni Nabokov for years before letting him head over to Russia.

So, what about Bryan Murray? After trading for Pascal Leclaire, who cost a pretty penny ($3.8 million cap hit per season), why is he suddenly throwing more money at his goaltending problem? Maybe even more importantly, why is he throwing money at his goaltending problem for four seasons? Especially when we have been hearing for some time that Robin Lehner is the goaltender of the future in Ottawa. Has the organization's view of Lehner shifted that quicky? If so, is that an indictment of the team scouts? Of Murray?

The alternative thought process would be that Anderson is there to mentor Lehner, while providing very solid netminding to a team that never seems able to secure just that. If that is the case, and that is certainly some people's thought process of the situation, then why sign Anderson to four seasons?

The more logical signing would have been to lock down Anderson for two seasons at a slightly higher per season cap hit and to have allowed him to prove his worth, all while developing Lehner. If after two seasons both were the answer, or neither, that could be dealt with at that time. Sure, you may say that Anderson may not have taken two seasons; well then the Senators could have taken a run at Tomas Vokoun—a superior netminder—or other free agents such as Ilya Brygalov or Josh Harding.

To put it simply, Craig Anderson was not the only option. Moreover, it was not as if the Senators gave up the farm to acquire him last month. Murray really was not under any pressure to sign the former Panther to a four-year deal. For a team looking towards the draft, some nice young prospects and a fan base that appeared to be understanding of the organization's need to rebuild, it appears Bryan Murray got trigger happy with this contract.

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