I am on the record for saying before the beginning of the series between Ottawa and Pittsburgh that "there is no chance the Senators are able to make this series go 6 games. Penguins win the series either 4-0 or 3-1." Well, wouldn't you know that Ottawa took the Penguins to not only 7 games, but 2 overtimes in that game as well. Last night's Game 7 was a classic. A big part of the reason why is because Senators' goaltender Craig Anderson was a stud for all 80+ minutes that went down in PPG Paints Arena last night.
Anderson was once an integral part of Colorado's roster in the late 00s and the beginning of this decade. When the Avs made the playoffs in Joe Sacco's first year as head coach, Craig Anderson's playoff performance against the Sharks was valiant in spite of the fact the Sharks won the series by a margin of 4-2. Not long thereafter, however, Anderson was shipped to Canada while the Avalanche received Brian Elliott.
The trade took place in February 2011. By this point in the 10-11 season, Colorado and Ottawa were both out of the playoff race (and this was before the Avs' infamous 1-11-1 February record). Craig Anderson was a few months away from becoming an UFA, and Elliott was going to be a RFA that was not in the Senators' long-term plans. I turn your attention now to a making sense article that came from this site after the trade took place. For Colorado, this trade was going to accomplish two things: 1) Unload Anderson's $1.85 million contract and get something in return for him since he was never going to be resigned that summer. 2) Establish the next backup for the franchise since Peter Budaj was about to leave as well. Goal 1: accomplished. Goal 2: failed.
Avalanche management elected not to resign Elliott, and he's gone on to have a nice career since then. He went to St. Louis, signed a one year "prove it" contract and ended up being apart of the 2012 All-Star Game. Go figure. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, and we can say now the Avalanche probably should have kept Elliott. Had they, in the present this trade might be viewed as a mutually beneficial trade for both Ottawa and Colorado. Instead, as it currently is, this trade goes down as a black eye for the Avalanche.
What is not to be disputed here is the Avs' reasoning for this trade. Yes, Anderson had his moments in Denver and was a fan-favorite, but with his performance in a contract year, the writing was on the wall. He wasn't going to come back, so trade him. It's not like we could go back 75 months in time and tell Avs management, "Psst Anderson is going to be a starting goaltender in the Conference Finals in 2017." We would have been laughed at if we did. It was viewed more unlikely than plausible Anderson was not going to regain his form, and such a performance like the one he had this season was certainly not in the cards back then.
Colorado's miscalculation of Elliott, however, is something to lament. The Avs proceeded to go with Varlamov/Giguere for a few years, which never panned out until the miraculous 13-14 campaign. For the record, I view Varlamov and Anderson to be around the same tier in NHL starting goalies. If you were to break everyone down in superstars (guys like Price, Lundqvist), great but not legendary (guys like Holtby, Crawford), very solid (guys like Dubnyk, F. Andersen), I think when healthy, both Varlamov and Anderson would be in that fourth tier. They have their flashes of brilliance in certain games, go through their lulls, but for the most part are dependable players you don't mind having as your starting goaltender. So the Avs transferring of Anderson to Varlamov was a lateral move in my mind that is not to be regretted.
The Avalanche missed their chance on what would have been a great tandem in Varlamov/Elliott. Let's say Elliott does sign a cheap, one-year deal with Colorado that offseason. He plays 1 of every 4 games while Varlamov plays the other 3, or thereabouts. Elliott puts up a solid record, is seen by other teams as starting caliber, so the Avs either keep him and try to sign him in the 2012 offseason to bolster a young, solid goaltending core, or they trade him to a goalie-needy team and get something of good value in return. Hard to say where things go from there, but Colorado missed their chance on capitalizing on what they got for Anderson.
Unfortunately, Colorado coming up on the wrong end of value in trades hasn't changed much since then. Be it this trade, a 2nd rounder for Reto Berra, or a 3rd rounder for Eric Gelinas, the Craig Anderson trade set the tone for what was a harbinger of things to come.