BUFFALO – Pierre Groulx remembers Craig Anderson looked a bit unorthodox in his crease. Instead going down in the butterfly like many modern goalies, he might stand up to stop a shot. The two-pad stack was part of his repertoire.
“He was more of the old school style,” said Groulx, who first served as Anderson’s goalie coach with the Florida Panthers from 2006 to 2008. “… He was one of those guys that read the play.”
Right away, Groulx learned Anderson possessed a terrific, NHL-level ability to process the action. But when the Panthers traded a sixth-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2006 in exchange for Anderson, he hadn’t made much of a mark in the big leagues.
The Panthers wanted to beef up their depth and Anderson, following his first full year in NHL, was heading back to the minors as the organization’s No. 3 goalie.
Tonight against the Ottawa Senators at KeyBank Center, Anderson, 41, could play his 709th and final NHL game. While an upper-body has sidelined him the last 10 contests, he has been working his way back and is expected to start the Sabres’ home finale.
The popular Anderson, the NHL’s oldest player, joined the Sabres last year, giving them a highly respected veteran still capable of tending some splendid goal.
The Buffalo Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association this week nominated him for the Masterton Trophy, an award he won in 2016-17 for his dedication to hockey.
Age has relegated the American to a backup role in his 20th campaign. Still, he has won 10 games and recorded a .908 save percentage in 25 outings. On Feb. 24, he became the oldest goalie in NHL history to stop 50 shots in a game.
For much of the year, the fan base wanted Anderson, who played about once a week, to receive more starts.
Anderson, who signed a one-year contract to return, gave the Sabres a bonus season in 2022-23. His family has stayed in Florida during most of his time in Buffalo.
Rookie goalies Devon Levi, 21, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, 24, appear ready to share the net. The Sabres also have Eric Comrie, 27, under contract for another year.
Anderson, whose 318 wins rank 32nd on the all-time list, might feel it’s time to retire.
In his early and mid-20s, the idea of Anderson enjoying a decorated career and playing into his 40s would’ve seemed ludicrous. In 2005-06, he pinballed around the NHL over a 15-day stretch, getting plucked off waivers three times. He went from Chicago to the Boston Bruins to the St. Louis Blues and back to Chicago.
At least he stuck in the NHL.
After Anderson joined the Panthers for his sixth pro season, he spent most of the year with Rochester Americans, the AHL affiliate they shared with the Sabres.
Later that season, however, his career suddenly took off. During some action in Florida, he stood out, and he earned the backup job behind goalie Tomas Vokoun in 2007-08.
“Every time he played, he gave the team chance to win,” Vokoun told the Times Herald.
Groulx added: “You could tell at that point he had matured and he knew what he needed to do to be successful to have a chance to play regularly in the NHL.”
Anderson has talked about how experiencing waivers three times taught him the fleeting nature of goaltending and forced him to develop a higher level of dedication on and off the ice.
By the time he joined the Panthers, Groulx said Anderson “understood the work he needed to stay at the NHL level” and “what kind of game he needed to play.”
In two seasons playing behind Vokoun, he compiled a 23-13-6 record and gaudy save percentages of .935 and .924.
“The more games that he played in Florida, he sort of figured out, ‘Hey, I can play at this level,’” Groulx said. “And I think with goaltending it’s trust and it’s work ethic and trusting your abilities. And I think, in the end, the way Craig reads the game became evident in Florida.”
That ability to read the game has contributed to Anderson’s remarkable longevity.
“He was not the most flexible guy,” Vokoun said. “But he was smart and also being able to read the play. I mean, you can be as quick as you want, but if you’re not able to recognize what’s happening, it’s going to be too late for you to move anyways. And you can see by his success at such an advanced age it’s something that never goes away.”
Anderson parlayed his work with the Panthers into a starting job with the Colorado Avalanche. In Ottawa, where he spent 10 seasons, he became a franchise legend, backstopping the Senators to Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference final.
“A big part of that was … the confidence that (Senators general manager) Bryan Murray showed in him and just basically, ‘Hey, it’s your job,’” said Groulx, who began a five-year stint as Ottawa’s goalie coach in 2016. “The trust factor coming from (Murray) went a long way.”
In recent seasons, the affable Anderson has also turned into a mentor, lending advice to young goalies and becoming what Groulx called “an extension of the coaching staff.”
“I hear (Sabres coach) Donny Granato talking about how he’s helping Devon Levi,” he said. “I think he wants to help those young guys, and I think talking to him a few times since, I think he cherishes that role to help those young guys.”