Entering the 2022-23 season, it felt as though for the first time in a long time, the Buffalo Sabres had optimism surrounding their roster. The script had finally been flipped on the Jack Eichel saga, and players like Tage Thompson, Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power and several others seemed to point towards a bright future.
While there were plenty of positives, however, one area that seemed to suggest they would struggle in 2022-23 was their goaltending. A duo of Eric Comrie, a goalie with just 28 games of NHL experience entering the year, paired with a past-his-prime veteran in Craig Anderson, didn’t inspire a ton of confidence. That said, while the former has struggled, the latter is having one of his best seasons in some time.
At 41-years-old, Anderson is not only the oldest player in the NHL, but happens to be one of very few goalies in the history of the league to still be suiting up at his age. Fresh off a 40-save shutout win against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, Anderson owns a 2.58 goals against average (GAA), along with a .919 save percentage (SV%) through 12 games. For comparison's sake, the league-average save percentage in 2021-22 was .907.
As mentioned, few goaltenders have been able to continue playing in the NHL at Anderson’s age, and even less have played as well as he has to this point. Listed below are the few who kept chugging along at a superb level despite being in their 40’s.
Having won six Vezina Trophies, as well as two Hart Trophies and two Stanley Cup championships, Dominik Hasek is regarded by many as the best goaltender to ever play the game. While his entire career was absolutely remarkable, one of his most impressive feats was how good he was able to remain late in his career. During the 2005-06 season, while at the age of 41, he compiled an incredible 2.09 GAA along with a .925 SV% with the Detroit Red Wings, which had him finish seventh in Vezina voting.
The following season, at the age of 42, Hasek returned to the Red Wings, and continued his outstanding play. Starting 56 games that season, he put together a 2.05 GAA, paired with a .913 SV% and a 38-11-6 record.
The 2007-08 season would be the final of his NHL career for Hasek. While his SV% dipped to .902, his GAA remained excellent at 2.14, as did his record of 27-10-3. There is a reason he is known as one of the best to ever do it, and had he wanted, he likely could have played another couple years.
Another goaltender regarded as one of the best to play the position is Jacques Plante, who throughout his illustrious career racked up seven Vezinas, six Stanley Cups and a Hart Trophy. Like Hasek, he had a very lengthy career that continued to be successful in his 40’s. In fact, during the 1970-71 season, at the age of 42, he led the NHL in both GAA at 1.88 and SV% at .944. To put into comparison how outstanding his numbers were, the next highest SV% that season was Ed Giacomin at .922.
Plante returned to the Maple Leafs the next season at age 43, though in more of a backup role behind Bernie Parent. That said, he was once again rock solid, recording a 2.63 GAA along with a 16-13-5 record in 34 appearances.
In his final season at the NHL level in 1972-73, Plante finally began showing his age. In 32 games with the Leafs, he had a 3.04 GAA and a 8-14-6 record before being traded to the Boston Bruins.
The deal seemed to rejuvenate him, as he was able to shut out the Chicago Blackhawks in his Bruins debut. He went on to play seven more regular season games with the B’s, posting a 7-1 record and a 2.00 GAA.
Perhaps the best goalie in NHL history through his 40’s was Johnny Bower, who somehow was able to stretch out his career until the age of 45. In his 40-year-old season back in 1964-65, he posted a 2.38 GAA along with a .924 SV% for the Maple Leafs, splitting time evenly with his goaltending partner Terry Sawchuk.
Bower’s brilliance continued the very next season at the age of 41, where, once again in time split with Sawchuk, he recorded a 2.25 GAA along with a .930 SV%, both of which were the best among all NHL goaltenders who appeared in 10 or more games.
This is a season that remains ingrained in the minds of Leafs’ fans, as it remains the last season that their team won the Stanley Cup. Bower, who by this time was 42-years-old, played a major role in that, compiling another excellent 2.64 GAA paired with a .918 SV%. Despite sharing the crease in the regular season, however, he appeared in just four playoff games to Sawchuk’s 10. That said, he was phenomenal when called upon during those four outings, with a 1.63 GAA and a .957 SV%.
One would think that winning a Cup at his age would have been enough to see Bower sail off into the sunset, but that wasn’t the case, as he returned for yet another season with the Leafs at the age of 43. He once again excelled, recording a 2.32 GAA and a .934 SV% alongside a new goaltending partner in Bruce Gamble.
Incredibly, Bower returned for another season in 1968-69, in what would be his final full season as an NHLer. Given that he was 43-years-old, he held a backup role to Gamble, but still produced a respectable 2.86 GAA along with a .909 SV% in 20 starts. He did return to play one game in 1969-70, but was forced to retire afterward due to injuries. He remains the second-oldest goaltender to ever play in an NHL game, trailing only Maurice Roberts, who suited up for one game at the age of 45.
While Dwayne Roloson doesn’t have the accolades of some other netminders on this list, he had himself a solid career with a great story, as he had to grind it out for several years in the American Hockey League before finally being given a legitimate chance in the NHL. He went on to play over 600 games at the NHL level, including a few seasons that came during his 40’s.
At the age of 40, Roloson chose to leave the Edmonton Oilers via free agency and signed a two-year deal with the New York Islanders. He appeared in 50 games that season, registering a 3.00 GAA along with a .907 SV%. He set a franchise record by stopping 58 shots in a 4-3 overtime win versus the Maple Leafs.
Roloson began the 2010-11 season with the Islanders at the age of 41, but went on to be dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning early into the year. Prior to the deal, he was having himself another solid year with a 2.64 GAA paired with a .916 SV%. He then went on to suit up for 34 games with the Bolts in which he recorded a 2.56 GAA and a .912 SV%.
The solid season, paired with a lengthy playoff run in which he and the Bolts advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, was enough to earn him another one-year deal for the 2011-12 campaign. Unfortunately, age began to take its toll, as he struggled immensely in 40 appearances, accumulating a 3.66 GAA and a .886 SV%. By the time the rough season came to an end, he had announced his retirement.
In that same 1970-71 season in which the 42-year-old Sawchuk led the league in both GAA and SV%, Gump Worsley was also able to put together a very good year at the age of 40. In 24 games with the Minnesota North Stars, Worsley had a 2.50 GAA along with a .913 SV%, albeit in a backup role behind Cesare Maniago.
While his backup role the season prior had many thinking Worsley’s best days were behind him, he proved in 1971-72 that wasn’t the case. Though he still had Maniago as his running mate, he was able to appear in 34 games this time around, and had a brilliant 2.12 GAA paired with a .933 SV%. That SV% trailed only Tony Esposito’s for the best in the league that season.
Worsley continued on to play with the North Stars for two more seasons, but saw his numbers drop off in a big way in each. By the time the 1973-74 season came to an end, he announced his retirement, putting an end to his Hall-of-Fame career.
Anderson is adding his name to the history books
While the majority of goaltenders above had superior careers to Anderson, the fact that he is being mentioned with them goes to show how solid he has been so far in 2022-23. He isn’t receiving a ton of starts, but when he has gotten the call, he has given his Sabres team a chance to win.
What makes Anderson’s story all the more impressive is the fact that just two seasons prior, he was on the taxi squad for the Washington Capitals and made just four starts the entire year. The fact he was able to see that little game action at the age of 39, but has continued to be an NHL caliber netminder two years later, speaks to both his brilliance and dedication.
What Anderson’s intentions are regarding his playing career past this season remain unknown. He is currently on a one-year deal with a cap hit of $1.5 million, meaning nothing is guaranteed moving forward, even if he wishes to continue playing. If he is able to keep similar numbers for the remainder of the 2022-23 campaign, however, it bodes well for him getting another opportunity, whether it be with the Sabres or elsewhere.
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