Presumably, getting out of the Eastern Conference cellar is no April Fool's joke on the Ottawa Senators. Unless they factor in the impact it has on them possibly winning the draft lottery next week.
Of course, the Senators were already a long shot to win the first overall pick before they beat the Panthers on the final day of March and jumped over Florida into 14th place. So no one was really complaining when their odds got just a little bit worse after a 37-save night from goalie Craig Anderson, the latest strong effort by the veteran goalie since he arrived in mid-February.
|Craig Anderson enjoys the change of scenery and likes it Ottawa. (Getty Images)|
But if those deals were supposed to pay off in the future, the trade that brought Anderson from the Colorado Avalanche for Brian Elliot is one that has provided early dividends as well. Anderson picked up a shutout in his first start for Ottawa and overall has put together solid numbers, including a 9-4-1 record for a team that was a dozen games under .500 when he joined.
Still, it seemed like an odd move at the time. Elliot certainly was one of the biggest disappointments on a disappointing team, but he wasn't getting all that much help, and at 25, was nearly five years younger than Anderson. Besides, the former Panthers goalie was having his own struggles this season in Colorado while seemingly determined to test the unrestricted free-agent market in July.
But in Ottawa, Anderson has responded to the change of scenery. Despite a lineup that is made up mostly of AHLers these days, Anderson has been playing like he did during his breakthrough last season in Colorado, when he was in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy. He has brought a sense of calm to a position that has been a long-standing Achilles' heel in Ottawa, enough at least for the Senators sign Anderson to a four-year, $12.75 million contract extension.
"We all realized that we had to resolve our situation in goal if we're going to retool and rebuild the right way," Murray said. "If you look at the job Craig's done, it's a big reason our team has been able to play hockey the way we think we have to and can going forward."
That decision prevented Anderson from getting to the open market, where several teams were likely to be interested in signing him. Among them was Anderson's former team in Florida, where his wife is from. The couple is expecting its first child in the summer, and Anderson said they decided where they are now is where they want to be.
"From what I've seen, [Ottawa] seems like a great place to live and raise a family and that's an important thing to consider," Anderson said. "But from a hockey perspective, there has to be a good fit too.
"It's a lot of fun coming to the rink every day knowing you're going to have a full building that's loud and supports you. There's a lot to be said for playing in that kind of environment. And since I've been here, this organization has been very good to me. They treat you with respect and I think this is headed in the right direction."
For the Senators, locking up Anderson is a key part of that equation. Ottawa used some of the money it freed up with its trades to re-sign homegrown veteran defenseman Chris Phillips, who was eligible for the open market next summer, and plans to use more of it on free agents. One of them, highly sought college player Stephane Da Costa, signed a contract Thursday with the Senators, shunning a reported dozen other teams, and is expected to play over the weekend.
In the meantime, youngsters like Bobby Butler, Erik Condra and Colin Greening are producing in a way that offers at least some promise of better days ahead. Murray says that, along with having the goaltending situation settled, should help when it comes to wooing other free agents.
"Obviously if you don't have some stability in goal, you don't have a chance to win in this league on a regular basis," Murray said. "Players want to go where they have a chance to win and I think when they look at us, they'll see that Craig has stabilized the position to the point if we add a few more pieces, it can make a big difference."
Even if means dropping lower in the draft.
"You don't want to worry about those kinds of things," Anderson said. "All we're trying to do is go out and win."