Mendes: No need for a goalie controversy in Ottawa this year

Ian Mendes
11/8/2013 12:10:20 PM
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I am very excited to start contributing to the TSN website on a regular basis with blogs and columns about the Ottawa Senators.
In this space, I will be writing new and unique pieces about the team that you won't be able to find anywhere else.
So naturally, in an attempt to come up with a fresh topic about the Ottawa Senators, I am going to start with a piece about their goaltending.
Bet you didn't see that one coming.
With Craig Anderson sidelined due to a neck injury, Robin Lehner has stepped up and seized the moment with a pair of much-needed wins for the club. Lehner's performance in those two victories has many Sens fans suggesting that his time has arrived to be anointed the team's No. 1 netminder.
Ottawa fans are so conditioned to not having one reliable goaltender; they almost don't seem to know what to do with two of them. But before you start thinking this situation has the potential to become a full-fledged goalie controversy, there are a few things you need to remember.
The most important factor in the Ottawa crease is the contracts that both netminders have - specifically Anderson.
There are 23 goaltenders in the NHL who have a bigger cap hit than Anderson's $3.18 million contract, making it arguably the league's best deal for a netminder. If he was healthy last season, Anderson would have been the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy and his performance in the playoffs against Montreal cemented his status as a legitimate No. 1 goalie. To put this in perspective, Anderson has a lower cap hit than both Devan Dubnyk and Ondrej Pavelec
When the Vancouver Canucks were in the midst of a goalie controversy last year with both Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, the biggest catalyst for that storm was the latter's ridiculous contract. The Canucks were spending more than $9 million in their crease and it seemed counterproductive to have one goalie making more than $5 million to be sitting at the end of the bench on a regular basis. The same thing happened in Pittsburgh last spring, when Marc-Andre Fleury's contract suddenly looked like a white elephant on the payroll during the playoffs when he lost his job to the more economical Tomas Vokoun.
But in Ottawa, they are spending only $4 million combined on the position when you factor in Lehner's $850,000 salary for this season.  There is no financial element that would push Ottawa to a tipping point this season. Lehner is set to become a restricted free agent in July, but the club would still hold the hammer in those negotiations.
When Bryan Murray signed Anderson to his four-year deal back in the spring of 2011, the consensus amongst Ottawa fans was that it was a great contract - except most of them didn't like the fourth year tacked on at the end. Ironically, that fourth year is the best thing that could have happened to the club, because now it buys them another year to figure out their long-term plan.
If Anderson's deal was set to expire this season, there would have been more pressure to try and either trade him or sign him to an extension. But now, Murray can let this situation breathe knowing he doesn't have to face a real pressure point until after this season at the earliest.
Last season, the Ottawa general manager was forced to deal a goaltender because Ben Bishop was set to become a restricted free agent and the club knew it could no longer keep its three-headed monster in goal. That was a very real pressure point, since they did not want to lose Bishop as a restricted free agent - nor did they want to go through the exercise of signing him to a new contract only to have to turn around and trade him. That was a real pressure point for Murray and one that he doesn't have to deal with this season.
Some fans are now suggesting Murray should have moved Anderson at the deadline last season and hung onto Bishop and Lehner, since he likely would have received more for the veteran netminder. But at the time Anderson was the most proven and stable goalie of the bunch and his contract was extremely reasonable for a No. 1 goaltender.  And that last sentence remains true today: Of the three goaltenders, Anderson remains the most proven of that trio.
The best parallel to the Anderson-Lehner situation could be the one that played out in Boston with Tim Tomas and Tuuka Rask. Those two goalies shared the crease for three full seasons and while it did get awkward at times, they did win a Stanley Cup in that situation. Thomas eventually orchestrated his own departure out of Boston, but that was after three full seasons of sharing the crease with a young prospect. Two capable netminders can share the workload for an extended period of time before something has to give. We're not anywhere near that point in Ottawa right now.
The other thing to consider is that injuries can always play a factor in the goaltending equation. It's a long season ahead and both Lehner and Anderson could be heading over to Sochi to represent their countries in February.
And if Sens fans have learned one thing over the years, it's that when their goalie heads overseas for the Olympics, he doesn't always come back healthy.

Craig Anderson (Photo: Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)


(Photo: Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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