Is there a goalie in the house? This is not the plea of desperation any team wants to hear. However, it was the question on the lips of every Ottawa Senators fan watching the game in Calgary. Starting goalie Craig Anderson was absent due to personal issues, and 20 minutes into the game Andrew Hammond left with an injury. Both men are out for an uncertain amount of time. Thankfully the Senators were able to bring third-string goaltender Chris Driedger to Calgary, albeit lacking a few personal effects.
Ultimately, Driedger’s efforts left many wanting more. After recalling Matt O’Connor, the Senators find themselves having to choose between option C and option D for the starting role when they play the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.
Solving the Ottawa Senators Goaltending Conundrum
It’s the first of many decisions Guy Boucher and the Senators organization will have to make when it comes to their back-stopper. If the injury to Hammond isn’t serious, and the personal matter that has once again drawn Anderson from the team isn’t time consuming, then the Senators can consider themselves lucky; but that’s a lot of “ifs.”
So in a worst case scenario, where both Anderson and Hammond will be absent for some time, what options does Ottawa have?
Option 1: The Buffalo
Named for a moved pulled by former Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray, “The Buffalo” is a coy move where the team completely embraces tanking for a high draft pick by playing far below average goaltenders. Given O’Connor’s and Driegder’s lack of NHL experience this is the option that is most readily available to the Senators. It is also one that Pierre Dorion would likely have a difficult time pitching to the fans and to ownership.
Option 2: The Lindback
Should Ottawa decide they are in need of immediate short-term help in net, there are a couple of free-agents that could be acquired. Most notably was former Arizona Coyotes, and Buffalo Sabres goaltender Anders Lindback, however, he is on a five game try-out with the Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliate the Ontario Reign, after Jonathan Quick was sidelined for the next 3-4 months. That leaves the likes of Ray Emery, Dan Ellis, Cedrick Desjardins, Brodi Hoffman, Karri Ramo.
There are of course some issues with that plan. For starters, using a goalie that played an integral role in the original Option 1 is never your best course of action. Secondly, Karri Ramo the most notable of the remaining goaltenders was one half of the only sub .900 save percentage duo in the league last season.
Frankly, these are goaltenders who were left unsigned for a reason. It’s uncertain whether or not they will offer a calibre of goaltending that is any better than that offered by Ottawa’s current options.
Option 3: A Trade
This brings us to option three: making a trade to acquire a goaltender. The Sens don’t have a surplus of draft picks, but outside of their second round picks for the next two years, they aren’t missing many either. The problem is it’s a seller’s market at the moment, with two other teams in desperate need for help. Acquiring a solution might not be cheap. Knowing that, the Senators still need to assess their options, who is available?
Undoubtedly the top goaltender available, Pavelec is more than capable of providing the Sens with relief until Anderson or Hammond returns, but he carries a $3.9 million cap hit, and worse, a $4.75 million salary, he won’t be a tempting option for a cash strapped Senators team.
Stalock, like Pavelec is also a free agent at the end of the year, but unlike Pavelec is tied to a much more palpable $650,000 cap hit. Stalock has shown that he can perform as an NHL backup in the past, posting a .932 save percentage in 24 games with the Sharks in 2013-14. Unfortunately, that season is more an outlier than the norm.
Last season Stalock totaled an .884 sv% in 13 games with San Jose; the season before he notched a .902 sv% in 22 games. These aren’t the numbers you want from your starting goaltender, and it’s hard to say with confidence that they are substantially better than what Driedger/O’Connor will give you.
Like Hammond, it’s difficult to look at Tokarski and not recall that magical run of play he had for the Montreal Canadiens in the post-season when Carey Price went down. That is not the caliber of goaltender he is. Tokarsi can be useable. He averages around a .915-.920 save percentage in the AHL and has shown that he can be a competent backup in the NHL, averaging a .910 save percentage in 17 games in 2014-2015. Like Stalock he struggled last season. Unlike with Stalock, however, Tokarski provides a history possessing a modicum of sustained success.
Another former Canadien cracking the list is Pittsburgh’s Mike Condon. Condon posted a .903 save percentage in 55 games with the Canadiens last year, and would offer the Sens a more certain, though clearly short-term, option in net. Pittsburgh has made it clear that they aren’t planning on waiving the 26-year-old.
McKenzie: “The Pittsburgh Penguins are not averse to trading Condon, but they’re not going to put him on waivers.” #Pens
— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) 26 October 2016
With Matt Murray, Jeff Zatkoff, and Marc-Andre Fleury, they feel confident dealing from a position of power. The Pens have a strong collection of forward prospects, and it’s unlikely they’ll take interest in the dredges of Ottawa’s young defencemen, but after winning the Cup last year, higher mid-draft picks could be enticing.
Berra is currently playing with the Florida Panthers AHL side, and through six games he’s posted a respectable .915 save percentage. Berra has proven himself a capable backup, maintaining a .922 save percentage with the Colorado Avalanche through 14 games last season. If the Senators do target another former Av as their fill-in net-minder, they can rest assured he’ll be used to the heavy workload the Senators tend to give their goalies.
While there may be other options available on the market, these seem to be the five at whom the Senators should look closest. They all play on teams with goaltenders who can step up to fill their role, and as such the price would hopefully be more manageable. In the end all Senators fans can do is hope for the best, but should a worst case scenario arise, this is what the Senators will need to consider.