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While he has yet to see any actual game action for the Washington Capitals, veteran goaltender Craig Anderson finds himself as the Capitals’ second goaltender, with Ilya Samsonov out after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis and breaking of the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. While it is unknown when Anderson might see game action for Head Coach Peter Laviolette, NoVa Caps takes a look at the 39-year netminder’s journey to Washington.
Originally drafted by the Calgary Flames in the third-round (77th overall) of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Anderson re-entered the draft in 2001 after not signing with the Flames, this time being selected 73rd overall by the Chicago Blackhawks, eventually making his NHL debut in a November 30, 2002 game against the Los Angeles Kings, stopping all four shots faced in 26:54 of ice time.
Anderson would make his first start the next night, allowing three goals on 26 shots in a loss to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (now the Anaheim Ducks). Anderson would not record his first career win until his 10th game of the following season, stopping all 30 shots faced for his first career shutout in a 7-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 22, 2004.
Anderson would spend parts of the next two non-lockout seasons (he spent the 2004-05 lockout-cancelled season in the American Hockey League with the Norfolk Admirals, going 9-4-1) with Chicago before being claimed on waivers three times by the Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, and then again by Chicago, before he was traded to the Florida Panthers on June 24, 2006 in exchange for Florida’s sixth-round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft (which was later traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning).
Anderson played five games for the Panthers during the 2006-07 season, going 1-1-1 with a Goals-Against Average of 2.21 and Save Percentage of .931; Anderson spent most of the season with the Panthers’ AHL affiliate Rochester Americans, recording 23 wins, 10 losses, and one shootout/overtime loss in 34 games. His strong performance in 2006-07 saw him elevated to backup for then-Panthers starting netminder Tomas Vokoun in 2007-08, during which he went 8-6-1 in 17 Games Played (13 started), recording a Goals-Against Average of 2.25, Save Percentage of .935, and two shutouts as the Panthers finished third in the Southeast Division with a 38-35-9 record.
In his second full and final season in Sunrise, Anderson saw more playing time, after Vokoun sustained an injury during the regular season. In 31 Games Played (27 starts), Anderson went 15-7-5, with a Goals-Against Average of 2.71 and Save Percentage of .924 and three shutouts.
With his contract up, Anderson now found himself as a free agent, and eventually signed a two-year, $3.625 million deal with the Colorado Avalanche. This time, he won the starter’s position in training camp over Peter Budaj, and went 38-25-7 in 71 Games Played, recording a Goals-Against Average of 2.63, Save Percentage of .917, and seven shutouts; in six playoff games (his first postseason action) Anderson went 2-4 with a Goals-Against Average of 2.62 and one shutout as the Avs lost in the first round to the San Jose Sharks. Anderson struggled during his second season in Colorado, and eventually was replaced as the number one netminder by Budaj.
After going 13-15-3 in 33 games (31 starts), Anderson was dealt to the Ottawa Senators on February 18, 2011 for fellow netminder Brian Elliott. The move to Ottawa would prove to be a turning point for Anderson, as he finished the season with an 11-5-1 record in 18 games (18 starts) and a Goals-Against Average of 2.05, Save Percentage of .939, and two shutouts (recording his first in his first game with the Senators).
In his first full season with the Sens, Anderson started off the season strong, winning 29 times in 56 games (among the best in the league) before suffering an injury which sidelined him in the middle of February. For the 2011-12 regular season, Anderson went 33-22-6, with a Goals-Against Average of 2.83, Save Percentage of .914, and three shutouts.
The Senators faced the New York Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, losing in seven games, during which Anderson went 3-4, with a .933 Save Percentage, 2.01 Goals-Against Average, and a shutout. The 2012-13 season was shortened due to a labor lockout, and Anderson emerged as an early frontrunner for the Vezina Trophy (awarded to the NHL’s best goaltender), going 6-2-2 in the first 10 games of the regular season with a Save Percentage of .950 and 1.49 Goals-Against Average. However, an injury to his ankle sidelined him once again in February, and he finished the season with a record of 12-9-2 in 24 games (24 starts), with a Goals-Against Average of 1.69 and Save Percentage of .941, with three shutouts.
For his regular season performance, Anderson finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting. The Senators qualified for the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where Anderson backstopped the team to a five-game, first round win over the Montreal Canadiens before losing in five games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round; Anderson recorded a 3.01 Goals-Against Average and .918 in those 10 games.
Anderson would spend the next six seasons in Ottawa, recording a total of 135 wins, 115 losses, and 35 shootout or overtime losses, with a Goals-Against Average of 2.94, Save Percentage of .912, and 20 shutouts during this span. Anderson’s 2016-17 was a trying one, as he announced that his wife Nicholle had been diagnosed with throat cancer. Anderson missed parts of the season to spend time with her, though he finished with a 25-11-4 record, 2.28 Goals-Against Average, .926 Save Percentage, and five shutouts.
In one of the most poignant moments of the season, Anderson recorded a shutout in the game following the announcement of Nicholle’s diagnosis. He also passed Patrick Lalime as the winningest netminder in Senators (1992) franchise history on March 11, 2017 in a 2-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche, his former club. Anderson also backstopped the Sens to the 2017 Eastern Conference Final, where the club fell in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins. After the season, Anderson was named the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner, given to the player that exemplifies “Qualities of Perserverance and Sportsmanship”. Nicholle Anderson would become cancer-free in May 2017.
Anderson’s final three seasons in Canada’s capital city were marred by struggling play, and in mid-2018 it was disclosed that Anderson had requested a trade out of Ottawa. However, it soon became clear that Anderson’s mind had changed after a suspected cause of the request (the controversy involving the comments of then-teammate Mike Hoffman’s wife of the family of then-Senators star defenseman Erik Karlsson) had been dealt with (Hoffman’s trade to Florida).
Anderson’s final two seasons in Ottawa were poor ones, as he combined to go 28-44-6 in 84 games (78 starts), with a Goals-Against Average of 3.41, Save Percentage of .902, two shutouts, and a Quality Start Percentage of .423. In late September 2020, it was announced that the Senators would not renew Anderson, leaving him a free agent for the first time since 2009 (he had re-signed with the Senators in the intervening years with an expiring contract). Anderson’s departure marked the end of a tenure in which he became the Senators’ franchise leader in Wins (202), Saves (12,447), and finished second in Save Percentage (.914) and Shutouts (28). In 435 Games Played in Ottawa, Anderson went 202-168-46, with a Save Percentage of .914, Goals-Against Average of 2.84 and 28 shutouts.
At 39-years old and without an NHL contract, Anderson signed a Professional Tryout Offer with the Capitals on December 27, 2020 and partook in the team’s training camp for the coronavirus-shortened 2020-21 season, before signing a one-year contract worth $700,000 contract before the team placed him on their taxi squad. In the wake of Samsonov’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Anderson was recalled to the team, and has yet to see game action at the time of writing.
Anderson met with the media on Saturday.
By Michael Fleetwood