Ottawa Senators’ Goalie Options for 2020-21

Anders Nilsson, Braden Holtby, Jacob Markstrom, NHL Goaltending, Robin Lehner, Senators Goaltending

Earlier, I wrote about the Ottawa Senators’ young goalies. While there is plenty of hope for the long term future with that young group, the short term is much more of a question mark. While Craig Anderson has yet to make an announcement about his future, his last few seasons were mediocre and at the age of 39 and without a contract, I’d lean towards him retiring. One goalie that will most definitely be involved is Marcus Hogberg It’s likely that he starts next season as the backup. As for who could be the starter, let’s take a look at some options:

Anders Nilsson

Pros

Nilsson has one year left on his contract at a cap hit of $2.6 million. He represents the easiest option because he’s already on the roster, meaning there’s no need to negotiate a contract or work out a trade. His .911 save percentage (SV%) as a Senator is solid, albeit unspectacular.

Cons

Over the last five seasons, he’s averaged just under 28 starts per season, and he’s bounced around quite a bit with the Senators being his sixth NHL team. His career .907 save percentage (SV%) is not exactly what you’d want from your number one goalie.

Anders Nilsson Ottawa Senators
Concussion issues and average numbers leave Nilsson as an underwhelming option as the Sens number one goalie next season (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Also, there’s the concussion problem- he last saw action in mid-December before spending the rest of the season on the Injured Reserve. While he passed his concussion baseline test in April, there’s still the worry that follows a player around after missing significant time with a concussion.

My Take

There’s plenty of risk involved in going into next season with Nilsson and Hogberg as their two goalies. If the concussion issue follows Nilsson around, the Sens will be left scrambling to find another veteran goalie or risk rushing a young goalie like Daccord to the NHL too quickly. I’d prefer the Sens explore external options to improve at the goalie position.

Robin Lehner

Pros

As he’s a free agent, the Sens would not need to give up any assets to acquire the 29 year old. Lehner’s play over the last few seasons has shown that he deserves another chance as a true number one goalie. He was a Vezina nominee with the Islanders in 2018-19, and was solid again this season, with a .918 SV% on a defensively-poor Blackhawks team, and then a .940 SV% in three starts with the Golden Knights.

Cons

The first question is, would Lehner want to come back here? Hopefully he holds no ill-will towards the team that traded him away in 2015. Also, what would the contract look like? He had to settle for a one year, $5 million contract last offseason. With another good season, he’s likely to get more than just one year now. Perhaps Semyon Varlamov represents a decent comparable- the Islanders turned to him last season after contract talks stalled with Lehner, and he received four years at $5 million per season.

Robin Lehner Vegas Golden Knights
Lehner’s short time in Vegas saw him post dominant numbers (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Would the Senators be okay with that type of contract for a goalie who’s bounced around on four teams in the last three seasons? No team last offseason seemed confident in Lehner being a true number one. Has that changed?

My Take

If I were in charge, Lehner would be my target. He’s faced a lot of adversity over the years and seems to be in a great place mentally and at the top of his game physically. At 29 years old, there’s hope that he could help them through this rebuild and still be a capable goalie when they’re ready to compete.

Related: Top 3 All-Time Capitals Goalies

I’m not sure Lehner wants to come back or if Dorion wants him back, but this is the goalie I hope they pursue. He’s not a goalie you’d have to trade an asset for, nor is he likely to break the bank with his next contract.

Braden Holtby

Pros

Like Lehner, Holtby is a free agent this offseason so this would not be a trade scenario. Holtby’s resume stacks up with just about any active goalie- Vezina winner in 2015-16, runner-up in 2016-17, Stanley Cup Champion, lifetime .916 SV% in the regular season and .928 SV% in the playoffs. He’s also been a true number one for several seasons, and obviously has plenty of big-game experience.

Cons

Holtby chose a wrong time to have a career-worst season. As an upcoming free agent, posting a .897 SV% and a goals against average (GAA) over 3 is not what Holtby was hoping for. What scares me, though, is despite those struggles, I don’t think Holtby would come at a big discount. You’re likely going to have to pay up, both in years and dollars to land Holtby.

Braden Holtby Washington Capitals
The top free agent goalie this offseason, Holtby is likely looking for a long term, big money contract (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As the top goalie on the market last offseason, Sergei Bobrovsky landed a 7-year deal worth $10 million per year. It took a desperate team to give that contract, so I’d anticipate Holtby ending up with less than that, but it still should be a 5+ year contract, with Holtby looking for a raise on his current deal that pays him $6.1 million per season.

My Take

With his proven track record of success, Dorion should at the very least, keep an eye on the Holtby situation. In the off chance that interest levels are low on him, perhaps Dorion could land him at good value. That seems unlikely, though, and I wouldn’t want to give a huge contract to Holtby. I’m also not sure how keen Holtby would be going from a Cup contender to a rebuilding team.

Jacob Markstrom

Pros

Markstrom has developed into a solid number one goalie. He’s posted a .913 SV% as a Vancouver Canuck during a time that they were rebuilding and simply not very good. With more help this season, Markstrom SV% jumped to a career best .918. Like Holtby and Lehner, Markstrom is a free agent so no trade package is necessary.

Cons

Markstrom did suffer a knee injury before Covid-19 shut the season down, so his health is something that you’d want to get some reassurance about (he is set to play in the playoffs). I have a hard time coming up with many other cons.

Jacob Markstrom Vancouver Canucks
Markstrom is an intriguing free agent option as a goalie who’s already helped a team through a rebuild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The one worry is that with his consistency over the last few years, he could be pushing for a longer term, bigger money contract than the Senators are willing to give out.

My Take

Markstrom’s value to the Canucks has been immense over these last few seasons. I’d imagine they will push hard to re-sign him. If he does hit free agency, he’s a goalie I’d like the Senators to consider. I do think he’ll be more expensive than Lehner, though, as he’s been consistently good for a while now.

Thomas Greiss

Pros

With Varlamov signed for the next three seasons, and Ilya Sorokin making his was over from the KHL, Greiss is likely the odd man out for the New York Islanders next season as an upcoming free agent. In 2018-19, Greiss was great for the Islanders, posting a .927 SV% in 43 games.

Related: Hockey Goalies – A Breed Apart

He was good but not great this season with a .913 SV% in 31 games. I don’t think Greiss will land a big contract, either. At 34 years old, he could be a nice stop-gap option for the next couple of seasons as the young Sens goalies continue to develop.

Cons

Greiss is heading into his mid-30s and he’s been mainly a backup in the NHL. Also, as impressive as his 2018-19 was, his play the season before was equally unimpressive as he posted an .892 SV% and 3.82 GAA.

Thomas Greiss New York Islanders
Greiss has spent the five seasons with the Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With a young Senators’ team, they will undoubtedly go through some defensive struggles. Is Greiss the right goalie to help lead them through that?

My Take

Greiss is a cheaper option than the other free agents mentioned, but bringing him in would not exactly inspire confidence. I’d understand it from the perspective of only wanting to sign a veteran to a shorter term deal in anticipation for the younger goalies to be ready in the future, but I’d much rather bring in a younger, better goalie even at the higher price. If that leads to a Luongo-Schneider type competition in the future, so be it; that’s a good problem to have.

Matt Murray

Pros

Murray is only 26 and has already won two Stanley Cups. Enough said.

Cons

Murray struggled mightily this season with an .899 SV%. He was outplayed by Tristan Jarry who posted a .921 SV% and stole more starts as the season went along.

Matt Murray Pittsburgh Penguins
Murray’s lesser season paired with Jarry’s success has him as a potential trade target (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As an RFA, the Senators would need to trade for Murray, and the Penguins would not sell him for cheap. He would also need a new contract which might be a tough one to figure out given the highs and lows during his time in the NHL.

My Take

The Pittsburgh Penguins have both Murray and Jarry approaching RFA status. Paying both those guys is possible, but moving one, gaining cap space and the assets from the trade makes sense. Also, trading one before the expansion draft seems likely or else they’d lose one for nothing. With Murray as the more proven goalie, his next contract will be bigger, and he was clearly inferior to Jarry this season. Still, acquiring Murray seems like a long shot.

Related: Do You Know Your NHL Goalie Trivia?

The Pens still have the playoffs, where Murray could very well establish himself as the goalie to keep. If he is put on the trade block, there would likely be plenty of teams interested. Would Dorion be willing to give up the necessary assets to get him? At only 26 and already so successful, Murray would be one of my top goalie targets. It just seems unlikely compared to signing a free agent.

Final Thoughts

It’ll be interesting see how Dorion handles the goalie situation this offseason. There’s the do nothing option in sticking with Nilsson, a variety of free agent options where the Sens could push for one of the big fish, or opt for a less expensive goalie, and then of course the trade option. I think Lehner makes sense for a number of reasons and I’d be thrilled to see him return. Now, having laid out several options, let’s watch Pierre Dorion sign Craig Anderson to a one year deal.

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