The Buffalo Sabres Goalie Quandary
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The Buffalo Sabres are a team on the cusp of being playoff contenders. They’ve picked in the top ten in the previous eight drafts, including three top two picks. Those top two picks include Sam Reinhart (2014), Jack Eichel (2015) and Rasmus Dahlin (2018). They have a well-rounded top nine forward crew, and a solid top four defensemen. The one spot that they haven’t been able to figure out has been their goaltender.
The Sabres haven’t seen a starting goalie put up a winning record since the 2015-16 season, when Chad Johnson had a record of 22-16-4. Along with a very solid stat line, with a .920 save percentage and a 2.36 goals against average (GAA), Johnson’s season was the best a Sabres goalie had achieved since Ryan Miller was in net. Needless to say, it’s been a while since they’ve had a consistent performance from their goaltending. They thought the answer was found in signing Carter Hutton. The St. Louis Blues back-up put up incredible numbers in the 2017-18 season. Playing behind Jake Allen, Hutton had a 17-7-3 record with a .931 save percentage, 2.09 GAA and 3 shutouts. Buffalo General Manager Jason Botterill liked what he saw, and signed Hutton to a 3 year, $8,250,000 contract on July 1, 2018. Unfortunately, Hutton didn’t take to the starting role in his first season with Buffalo. Starting 48 games, Hutton had a 18-25-5 record with a .908 save percentage, and a 3.00 GAA. Far from the numbers Buffalo had hoped for from their newly signed starting goalie.
So where do they go from here?
There are a few routes to take to remedy this situation. Free agency, trade, or promoting a prospect are the only choices. Let’s take a look at some options.
The free agent market is thin when it comes to goalies. There are a couple worth looking into that could improve the current situation in Buffalo.
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31 years old / 6’1″/ 209 lbs
Michal Neuvirth spent a part of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons in Buffalo. His last four years were spent in Philadelphia, where his career was labile due to the Flyers’ own goaltending issues. Neuvirth has enjoyed periods of success throughout his career, with a career stat line of 105-93-26, .910 save%, and a 2.71 GAA. After an injury-filled year in 2018-2019, Neuvirth posted some lackluster numbers. However, he has a track record of success, has held the role of starter before, and adding him on a cheap deal could help lighten the load on Hutton’s shoulders.
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29 years old / 6’1″ / 205 lbs
With only one season of NHL experience under his belt, Harri Säteri could be a promising option. Though he has been a part of the Sharks, Panthers and Red Wings organizations, Sateri was only able to crack the NHL roster in 2017-18 with Florida. In the nine games he saw ice time, he had a 4-4-0 record, in seven starts, a .911 save % and a 2.92 GAA. He wouldn’t be vying for the starting role, but he would give Buffalo another option to back up Hutton.
This is where it gets more fun. Trying to figure out a good trade partner to land a starting-caliber goalie isn’t an easy task. There are some talented back ups looking for a chance to prove themselves on a team that could use the help. There are also some veterans able to step right into the starting role if needed.
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29 years old / 6’6″ / 206 lbs
Jacob Markström has been one of the most consistent goalies over the last 4 years, holding a record of 74-74-23 with a stat line of a .912 save % and a 2.72 GAA. He remains a viable starting goalie and would be a great option on most teams. Vancouver has a couple goalie prospects, Thatcher Demko and Michael DiPietro, just about ready to take the next step. With Markström becoming a Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of next season, a mid-season trade could really answer the goalie questions in Buffalo.
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33 years old / 6’1″ / 216 lbs
The Los Angeles Kings should be entering a rebuild sooner rather than later, and have two current solid young goalies, Jack Campbell and Cal Peterson. A couple years ago, a trade involving Jonathan Quick would’ve been unlikely, but could now become reality. He would be a great addition to a young team capable of making playoff runs with the right goalie to lead them. Quick notably took a step back last year, which has people fearing the worst. A 16-23-7 record with a .888 save % and a 3.38 GAA, are numbers we haven’t seen since his rookie season, when he only appeared in three games. The track record is there, and if a trade can be made, it will most likely come at a friendly price.
The Sabres have two goalie prospects coming up through the system. Jonas Johansson (drafted in 2014) and Erik Portillo (drafted in 2019) are names to keep an eye on. But, there is only one clear option right now.
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20 years old / 6’4″ / 190 lbs
Besides having the most fun name to say in the NHL, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has been playing quite well over the last couple years. Spending most of his time with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves, Luukkonen played in 53 games with a .920 save % and a 2.50 GAA. If those numbers aren’t impressive enough, he also appeared in six games with the Finnish team at the World U20 Juniors, where he had a .932 save % and a 1.80 GAA. Ready to make the jump to the AHL this upcoming season, Luukkonen is the future netminder of the Buffalo Sabres. If they can be patient with his development, he could be ready to take over the role in two seasons.
The time is approaching where the Sabres need to make a decision. Hutton has two years left on his current deal. They need to be ready to choose a path. Whether it’s rolling with Hutton and seeing what happens or making a splash via trade, the clock is ticking. Splashy change by trade looks to be the wisest course of action to keep the Sabres’ playoff hopes alive. Discuss this article and more on the Overtime Heroics Forums!