Craig Anderson turns 39 on May 21, a relatively ancient age for an NHL goaltender.
And yet, the Ottawa Senators mainstay doesn’t sound like he’s quite ready to retire, despite approaching the end of his Ottawa contract.
“I haven’t put too much thought into future plans,” Anderson said on a video conference call Wednesday. “I’m kind of trying to stay in the moment as best I can… focus on the ‘what ifs’ with what we are going through as far as the current season… can we get back and finish our season?
“We’ll cross the bridge as far as future plans down the road but as of right now I am missing the game like crazy. I want to be on the ice, I want to be there competing with my teammates, so right now that would be the way I’m leaning, that I want to compete. And continue to do what I love every day.”
Considering his team sits in 30th place, Anderson is coming off a decent season, with 11 wins in 34 games, a .902 save percentage and 3.25 goals-against average. One could make a case for bringing Anderson back as a mentor to the younger goalies in the organization, but with Anders Nilsson under contract and Marcus Hogberg coming off a strong season filling in for the two veterans, there may not be room for a 39-year-old pending UFA. Waiting in the wings are several goalie prospects, including Joey Daccord, Filip Gustavsson, Mads Sogaard and Kevin Mandolese.
The NHL season, and possibly Anderson’s career, might have ended on March 11 in Los Angeles — with Senators players wondering aloud if the game would even be played after Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19. The Jazz had played at the Staples Center the night before. Multiple other people across a wide range of sports subsequently tested positive, including seven involved with the Senators — five players, one staff member and broadcaster Gord Wilson.
If the 2019-20 regular season does get cancelled and Anderson has to retire on such a bizarre note, he is OK with that.
“I’m just kind of rolling with it right now and let the chips fall where they may,” he says. “As an individual, I am hopeful that we are able to get back and play and finish the year but it’s out of my control.
“If it was something that maybe I did to screw things up for myself, I’d be in a different boat but right now I’m not too concerned about it. It’s not in my control, so I don’t want to put too much energy in that kind of stuff.”
If that was his swan song — a 3-2 loss with Anderson stopping 36 of 39 Kings shots — he will look back fondly on a number of memorable nights in the Senators goal. The first to come to mind was his emotional return against Edmonton on Oct. 30, 2016, after being on leave to support his wife, Nicholle, through her cancer treatment. Anderson pitched a 2-0 shutout, tears streaming down his face as he skated onto the ice as the game’s first star.
The Senators all-time leader in regular season games played by a goaltender (435), Anderson reflects fondly on his 40 playoff games with Ottawa, and especially the unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017. Anderson was outstanding in each series, including victories over the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers.
“Our fan base got absolutely electric and dynamic come playoff time, so that was something we eagerly looked forward to,” Anderson said.
The man who wears No. 41 is often spoken about in Ottawa as a candidate to have his jersey retired, alongside Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Phillips. (Winger Chris Neil is another popular candidate). If he’s done, Anderson would finish with a 202-168-46 Senators career mark to go with a .914 save percentage and 2.84 goals-against average. His playoff numbers are even better: 21-18 and .928 and 2.30.
Anderson has also played for the Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche. He came over to the Senators from Colorado in a trade for Brian Elliott in 2011. He has appeared in 648 NHL games and has 289 wins.
Future is bright
With or without him, Anderson sees a bright future for the Senators organization, led by the likes of Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot.
“We’ve got many, many good pieces that are young, energetic, good leaders — guys that are willing to put in the work and do it the right way,” Anderson says. “They’re just going to drag along the other guys that are kind of on the fence. So the future is bright.”
It will take some time, as the young players mature and veteran additions are made.
“I’m kind of excited for those guys, I’m also kind of sad on my end, because by the time we add all the pieces, I’ll definitely be well out of the league,” Anderson says.
Anderson has been home in Florida since mid-March and has been spending most of his days helping Nicholle with virtual school duties involving their two boys, Jake, 8, and Levi, 6.
“Pretty well every day is educating the kids,” Anderson says. “They have multiple Zoom calls with their school teachers and a whole bunch of assignments. So I’ve had to pick up some duties that way.”
Not opposed to playoff games in empty venues
Anderson’s first hockey wish is to finish the season.
“We want to get back to playing and doing what we’re supposed to be doing on a normal day-to-day basis,” he says.
But if the regular season gets cancelled, Anderson wouldn’t mind seeing his peers participate in playoff series in empty arenas, if that is what it takes to return to NHL hockey this summer.
“I think right now everyone is looking for something to watch on TV,” he says. “You’ve seen NASCAR, and IndyCar jump into the virtual world. We don’t have the luxury of being able to play the sport as a video game, so I think we’re open to anything. We’d get a lot of fan bases to tune in if we were able to go to national broadcasts with hockey that is currently happening.
“Myself and other players are all in for it. It gets us back to our regular routine, what we love to do. It also gives our fan base — even though they’re not at the game — it gives them something to tune into at home. Kind of break up the monotony of this quarantine.”
If the regular season restarts, Anderson says a veteran goalie like him would need a couple of weeks notice to get mentally prepared to play again.
Anderson’s well-known passion for auto racing comes naturally. His father, Richard, used to race Corvettes and founded Motorsport Ministries. Craig and his brother also race, and have converted that passion into sim car racing, or computer-simulated auto racing. Anderson has posted several of his iRace efforts online and admits he will find a place for auto racing in his life after he retires from hockey.
“Sim racing is becoming a tool for real drivers honing their skills without actually going to the track,” Anderson says. “So I’d like to think I’m using the sim racing as a stepping stone to learning new tracks, and different cars.
“We’ll see where it goes. It comes down to time. I’ve put so much time and effort into hockey, I do owe it to my family that I have to give back to them and be more involved that way. So it’s going to be a balancing act of seeing how much I can get away from the family to do sim racing or actual motorsport.”
Anthony LeBlanc steps into the breach as Sens executive
It is easily in the running for the least secure position in all of pro sports — the top business executive post with the Senators. Into the breach goes Anthony LeBlanc, named on Monday the Senators president of business operations. LeBlanc, an Ottawa resident and longtime Senators season ticket holder, was CEO and co-owner of the Arizona Coyotes from 2013-17. He was also a founding partner of Schooner Sports and Entertainment, a group committed to bringing the CFL to Halifax.
“I am thrilled to be appointed to the position of president of business operations with the Senators,” LeBlanc said in a statement. “I look forward to working closely with the entire staff as we prepare for an exciting chapter in the history of the Senators.”
LeBlanc becomes the fourth senior executive to be hired since club founder and CEO Cyril Leeder was fired by Eugene Melnyk in late January of 2017. Since that time, a little over three years, Tom Anselmi, Nic Ruszkowski and Jim Little have come and gone from CEO or COO roles. Little was hired on Jan. 10 of this year and was gone in less than two months.