There were an abnormally high number of goaltenders to grace the Ottawa crease during the 2021 season. Most of the league has had three or fewer goaltenders suit up for them, while nine teams have had four goalies play this year. Due to various injuries, Ottawa has seen five different goalies take the ice for the team this year. The only team who has had higher turnover in net are the Sabres with six. While it’s not a good thing that injuries turned the Senators’ net into a revolving door, it did allow for a showcase of the impressive depth and bright future that lies ahead.
By Zach Mulder
The first goalie to suit up this year for the Sens is also the one who spent the most time both in the crease and under the microscope. Matt Murray was the undisputed starter to begin the season after being acquired from Pittsburgh for a second round pick and signing a three year $25 million contract; a contract that includes a 10 team no trade clause. He’d had a rough end to his tenure as a Penguin, but he was still a two-time Stanley Cup winner at only 26 years old. The start of the season wasn’t great for Murray. Through 22 games Murray had a .880 save percentage and a goals against of 3.84, not numbers that inspire confidence. He was then sidelined for just over a month with an upper body injury, returning on April 14 to face the Jets. While it is a small sample size, the four full games he played after returning were polar opposites of his starts before the injury. In those games, Murray had two shutouts, the first in two years for the Sens, a .957 save percentage and a 1.26 goals against average. Murray was once again sidelined after suffering a lower body injury on April 24th, and missed the rest of the season. If he can stay healthy and the form he saw in April can be more than a flash in the pan he won’t have any reason to be concerned about who’s behind him on the depth chart. However, if his form regresses back to what it was to begin the season there’s no shortage of young goalies clamoring for his job.
Joey Daccord is one of those goalies, and for a few years has been considered the most exciting Sens goalie prospect. The Sens’ seventh round draft pick from 2015, Daccord was called up on February 21 after backup goalie Marcus Hogberg was sidelined with an injury. Daccord would only play in eight games before being forced to miss the rest of the season with a lower body injury himself. His NHL numbers didn’t look great, he had an .897 save percentage and a 3.27 goals against average, but his season only consisted of six starts and two relief appearances. A lot of the hype around Daccord stems from his final year at Arizona State University and his 2019-2020 season in Belleville at the AHL level. In 24 games with Belleville last year he had a .915 save percentage, leading his team to a 15-6-3 record when he played. Those are impressive numbers for a goalie in his first professional season. MoneyPuck’s five-on-five advanced metrics also paint a more forgiving picture of Daccord than his .897 save percentage suggests. His save percentage above expected is -0.2, meaning he, for the most part, made the amount of saves you’d expect him to make. This is a good sign for a young goalie with less than 10 career games. Despite the injury, Daccord’s 2021 would have been enough to hold his spot as the most anticipated goalie prospect for the Sens were it not for the rise of Filip Gustavsson in the last two months of the season.
When Daccord went down with an injury, the Sens were forced to go to number four on their depth chart in Gustavsson. The goalie nicknamed Goose didn’t just survive at the NHL level, he thrived. In his nine appearances for the Sens he posted a .933 save percentage, a 2.16 goals against average and a 5-1-2 record. Compared to Daccord, Gustavsson has emerged out of nowhere. Where Daccord was drafted by the Sens, Gustavsson was acquired in the Derick Brassard trade from Pittsburgh. While Daccord shined right away in the AHL, Gustavsson struggled. In his first two full AHL seasons he had a .887 and .889 save percentage, the latter of those coming the same year Daccord had his .915. But in 2021 that save percentage jumped an impressive 23 points to .912 for a team whose top three players from the year prior all made the jump to the NHL. Gustavsson is also only 22, two years younger than Daccord who spent three years in the NCAA before going pro. The advanced stats also indicate just how stellar Gustavsson was for the Sens. Compared to Daccord’s -0.2 goals saved above expected at 5 on 5, Gustavsson accumulated 3.6. Converted to a per 60 rate that’s 0.564 goals saved above expected a game, good enough for fourth in the league for goalies with minimum five games played. He also led the league in save percentage on low danger chances (minimum 2 games played) with .991 percent. This means the Sens could play knowing the goalie behind them wasn’t going to give up any soft goals. Nobody could have said this at the start of the season without being laughed out of the room, but it’s likely the Sens will protect Gustavsson in the upcoming Seattle expansion draft over both Murray and Daccord. His nine appearances were so strong that he has catapulted himself to the very top of the Sens’ goalie prospect list, and is a legitimate contender for the starting job.
The Sens also signed Danish goalie prospect Mads Søgaard to a three year entry level deal. Søgaard led the top Danish league in save percentage this year with a formidable .922. This built on his strong WHL seasons from 2018-19 and 2019-20 where he posted .921 and .908 save percentages. The Sens traded up in the draft to pick Søgaard in 2019, taking him with the sixth pick of the second round. He’s a couple years away from sniffing any NHL playing time, but he’ll get a good look with Belleville next year. If he can perform in the AHL like he did in junior and in Denmark this year, who knows what will happen.
In the NHL good goaltenders are worth their weight in gold, particularly ones who are young, promising and cost-controlled. A good goalie can make up for holes in the roster in front of them and elevate good teams to great. They’re also something that NHL teams can’t get enough of. For the Sens, having the goalie cupboard stocked full is fantastic. It allows them to be flexible with their moves, and if too many goaltending prospects prove NHL ready it gives them valuable trade chips. Craig Anderson spent 10 years with the Sens, a staple in the lineup the whole time, before leaving at the end of 2020. Looking at the depth chart now, there’s a very good chance the next Anderson is already here.