The Buffalo Sabres are starting to come to the realization that the future will not have Ryan Miller between the pipes of the Sabres for much longer. Reports have surfaced that Darcy Regier is shopping the unhappy netminder, and everything you read and hear from the goaltender points to the fact he’s ready to leave this team behind as soon as he gets the chance.
“Do we become a younger team or do we become a team that’s going to build and try to get this core group of guys a chance to move forward? Or are we not the core anymore?” ~ Ryan Miller when discussing the teams future direction.
Now that it’s becoming clear Ryan Miller’s days in Buffalo are “numbered” the Sabres need to start thinking about the future of their team between the pipes. Right now Jhonas Enroth is Miller’s backup and until Tuesday nights game didn’t seem capable of handling the backup role. When Miller went down with his concussion last season Enroth was given his opportunity to prove he’s capable of being an NHL starter, his play as a starter wasn’t good and the team was anxious to get Miller back.
Enroth has been the Sabres backup netminder for the past 2 seasons (plus this season) playing in 46 games. His numbers through 46 games have been decent 2.80 Goals Against Average and .911 Save percentage. To be honest the numbers aren’t a whole lot better than Ryan Miller’s right now, but if the Sabres aren’t
going to try and retain Miller it means they want a new direction between the pipes. From what we’ve seen from Jhonas Enroth through the past two seasons he is not capable of handling the duties of being a starting goaltender in the NHL as of yet.
With a few more seasons and a little more experience Enroth may adapt into a solid NHL starter, but are the Sabres willing to wait? Before exploring the markets for goaltenders Regier needs to look at the talent that is already in the organization. Starting with the Sabres farm team the Rochester Americans we find David Leggio and Nathan Lieuwen.
If you’re looking for a younger version on Ryan Miller than David Leggio is the guy you call. His numbers with the Amerks are very similar to the kind of numbers Miller puts up with the Sabres. Leggio was un-drafted and is in his 2nd season with the Amerks but has quickly become their go-to netminder. So far this year he’s posted a 37-17-1 record with a 2.57 Goals Against Average and .923 Save Percentage. The only problem is he’s putting up the kind of numbers Miller puts up in the NHL while still in the AHL- what kind of numbers would he have as an NHL starter?
Backing up Leggio with the Amerks is Nathan Lieuwen who was drafted by the Sabres in 2011. He’s played in just 2 games for the Amerks losing both of them and posting an atrocious 3.87 GAA. He appears to be staying on the “shelf” for now in Rochester and is no where near ready to make the jump to the Sabres crease.
Looking deeper into the depth charts you stumble upon Connor Knapp and Andrey Makarov. Knapp like Lieuwen was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres but is having some difficulties getting into the net. He started the year off as Leggio’s backup with the Amerks but after a poor showing through seven games was sent to the ECHL for “more experience and development.” He’s played in just seven games there winning only two and has assumed the roll as the backup.
Aside from David Leggio the other netminder in the organization with the brightest future is Andrey Makarov currently playing in the WHL. The un-drafted Russian netminder is having quite a season in the WHL going 35-16-1 with a 2.42 GAA, .924 S% and 7 shutouts which ranks him in the top five goalies in the WHL this season. He’s coming off a fantastic February where he went 15-0. He shows all the ability to one day be an NHL starter and with a little more seasoning will be seeing NHL minutes in no time.
If the Buffalo Sabres are to enter a rebuilding phase their best option is to stay within the organization. Sign Enroth to a one or two year extension and bring up David Leggio to be his backup or have them split the crease. In doing that bring Andrey Makarov to the Amerks and let him take over the reigns there to see how he does against some tougher competition, if he does well call him up to see some NHL time.
If the Buffalo Sabres aren’t ready to admit defeat and enter a rebuilding phase they need to see what goalie are available- and no I’m talking Roberto Luongo.
The Los Angeles Kings may be willing to part ways with Jonathan Bernier and at the age of 24 he’d be a solid gamble and would be able to split the crease with Enroth. Another possible option would be Peter Budaj with the Montreal Canadiens, a little bit older at age 30 but would provide some veteran leadership in the crease and help mentor the younger goalies for the future.
If Darcy Regier is set on winning now (next 2-3 seasons) his best option is to look outside the organization, if he wants to build for the future then there’s lots of talent to choose from already inside the organization. The Sabres goaltending future all depends on whether they keep Enroth or start fresh.