The Need to Win Now

Why Craig Anderson is integral to a Senators’ run at the Cup.

It’s the age-old hockey debate, at least for Senators fans; stockpile future assets, or put it all on the line for a chance to win now?

The average age of the Senators’ roster is currently the 7th oldest in the league, sitting at just under 28 years old. Obviously, the inclusion of any youth in the lineup is drastically offset by the numerous veterans under contract, such as Neil, Kelly, Pyatt, Anderson, Phaneuf, and Methot. With Neil and Kelly likely to depart this offseason, Methot a possible target of the expansion draft, and the uncertainty regarding Pyatt’s contract extension talks, the Senators’ bottom six could look drastically different next season, and that’s not a bad thing (sorry Chris Neil truthers).

The biggest concern on this list is the starting goaltender: Craig Anderson. The definition of stability on an otherwise tumultuous Senators roster over the past few years, there is no doubt that he is nearing the end of his career. Turning 36 this year, Anderson is still undeniably the Senators’ starting goaltender, despite the recent emergence of Mike Condon as a capable backup. The prospect pool for the Senators at the goalie position are bleak: a frustratingly inconsistent fringe NHL backup in Andrew Hammond, an untested prospect in Chris Driedger, a disappointing college signing in Matt O’Connor, and finally, a single ray of hope in Marcus Hogberg. The 22 year old’s numbers have been excellent this season with Linkopings HB, posting a 1.85 GAA and a .933 save percentage over 30 games played.

Despite Hogberg’s stellar season, it will likely be a few years before we see him play in North America, let alone as a regular at the NHL level. Craig Anderson is still in excellent form as the Senators push towards another playoff run, but he won’t be here forever. The Senators need to manage the next 4-5 years very carefully, and should make a conceded push to not only make the playoffs (as the current mandate states), but to compete for the Stanley Cup.

An additional (somber) note to point out is Erik Karlsson. I’m not adding fuel to the fire by saying he 100% isn’t going to sign in Ottawa at the end of his contract when he becomes a UFA in 2020/21 (in fact, he most likely will), but if the organization doesn’t reach the conference finals at least once in that timeframe, and knowing the Senators’ hesitancy to offer significant pay increases (which he will no doubt be due for), there is a possibility that he doesn’t re-sign (Cc: that one time Daniel Alfredsson did the thing that we don’t speak about).

The good news: The Senators are probably closer than you think to going deep in the playoffs. In an extremely weak Atlantic division, it is not only plausible, but likely, that the Senators can grab top seed in the Atlantic. They’ve proven they can beat teams above them in the standings during the season (just pray we don’t meet Buffalo in the playoffs). There’s a real chance they can make a real run over the next few years. But Karlsson and Anderson are without a doubt the two biggest backers of any potential playoff push.

In terms of potential deadline/offseason additions the team needs to make, Patrick Eaves and Matt Duchene are common names being thrown around. Eaves returning to Ottawa would no doubt provide a much-needed versatile winger in the lineup. Eaves, having a tremendous season in Dallas, would slot in nicely on the RW on lines 2 or 3, especially in the prolonged absence of Bobby Ryan (who some say has been missing all year…). In terms of Duchene, it seems the Senators have one again engaged in conversations with the Avalanche, likely gauging the asking price. At this point in time, I think most fans would be comfortable with leveraging an offer of Ceci, White, Lazar, and a 1st RD pick. The question is: is that enough? Management also seems quite high on Lazar and Ceci, perhaps for fear of admitting that their prospects didn’t pan out. White, on the other hand, is a blue chip prospect that the Senators can dangle without much fear of losing a franchise player moving forward. The Senators have very good depth at center, both in terms of roster players and prospects, so White may be expendable. It doesn’t help that he still isn’t signed to an entry-level contract coming out of the NCAA (the “Jimmy Vesey” factor).

Overall, the Senators are in good position, but complacency = death in the NHL. The Senators are always relatively quiet at the trade deadline, so I don’t expect much to happen between now and March 1st, especially considering the expansion draft and protection rules that the organization has to consider. Maybe they add an “Eaves-type” player, but it is highly unlikely that they pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal at the deadline, when prices are sky-high. But this summer, the Senators need to be all in. For Craig Anderson. For Erik Karlsson. For the Stanley Cup. For Sens Army.

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