Craig Anderson said the opportunity to play and be a mentor for the Buffalo Sabres was enough to put any thoughts of retirement on hold.
The 40-year-old goalie was pondering his future when the Sabres contacted him on the opening day of free agency July 28. He then signed a one-year, $750,000 contract for the 2021-22 season, which will be his 19th in the NHL.
“It was kind of unexpected,” Anderson said. “We were kind of not expecting anything to happen right off the bat. We were kind of waiting to see where the dust would settle with the goalie carousel that was going on and Buffalo called.
“I think there’s a good opportunity there to kind of share some wisdom with the group that’s there. I feel like I can still kind of give back to the game and give back to the organization, to the guys there, share my knowledge, and still compete.”
The Sabres turned to Anderson after they weren’t able to come to terms with Linus Ullmark, who signed a four-year, $20 million contract ($5 million average annual value) with the Boston Bruins after going 9-6-3 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 20 starts with Buffalo last season.
The Sabres also signed Aaron Dell to a one-year, $750,000 contract the same day as Anderson to help add goaltending depth. They will join journeyman Dustin Tokarski, who played 13 games last season, his first in the NHL since 2016, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who played four games as a late-season call-up.
Anderson, who was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the third round (No. 73) of the 2001 NHL Draft, is 291-252-67 with two ties, a 2.84 GAA, .913 save percentage and 42 shutouts in 652 games (614 starts) with the Blackhawks, Florida Panthers, Colorado Avalanche, Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals. He is nine wins shy of becoming the 38th goalie in NHL history to win 300 games, and the sixth United States-born goalie to reach the milestone, joining Ryan Miller (391), John Vanbiesbrouck (374), Tom Barrasso (369), Jonathan Quick (336) and Mike Richter (301).
Anderson spent most of last season on the Capitals’ taxi squad, playing in four regular-season games (2-1-0, 2.13 GAA, .915 save percentage). However, he entered Game 1 of Stanley Cup First Round against the Boston Bruins after starter Vitek Vanecek sustained an injury in the first period, and he stopped 21 of 22 shots in a 3-2 overtime victory.
That performance earned Anderson the start in Game 2, when he made 44 saves in a 4-3 overtime loss. He was then replaced by Ilya Samsonov for the rest of the series, which Washington lost in five games.
Anderson’s lack of playing time with the Capitals is what made him consider retirement, but he said the support of wife, Nicholle, caused him to leave the door open for a return.
“I think any time a player kind of gets to their later years, they kind of think ‘What kind of other opportunities can I do? Where’s my family at? Where are my kids at?'” Anderson said. “That was in my mind even through last year. Where are we going? What’s the plan? As summer went on, we spent a long time with the family. We talked, my wife and I, that sometimes happens, and she’s still 100% behind me as far as keep chasing it, keep playing the dream you love doing and we’ll support it.
“At the end of the day, I’m honored to have the contract and to be able to go in there. My job now is to prove to Buffalo and everyone else the reason why they offered the contract, and make sure that I’m ready to go in there and do the job that they’re asking me to do.”