The Buffalo Sabres have a glaring need for quality and consistent goaltending — both for now and for the future. Where can this team find it?
Raise your hand if you get nervous thinking about the Buffalo Sabres’ goalie situation heading into next season. As of right now, it looks like they’ll be rolling with Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton to start the season, unless Kevyn Adams puts his big-boy pants on and makes a move.
Of course, that also requires the Pegulas to put their big-boy pants on too — which I think is more of a cause for concern than Adams’ big-boy pants.
Enough about pants, let’s talk about goalies. I really like Linus Ullmark and I don’t think there’s any question as to whether or not he should be on the roster Opening Day. At just 26 years old, he’s still got a lot of good hockey left in him and I think we’re still to see the best of him.
He finished the 2019-20 season playing and starting in 34 games — his second straight 30+ game season. His 17 wins is a career high, but his 14 losses ties the same number he had the previous season. In his career with Buffalo, he’s 41-41 with a 2.81 GAA and .911 SV%.
With that being said, he is a restricted free agent this offseason and needs a new contract. He was signed to a one-year, $1.325 million contract in August of 2019, but will likely be looking for a multi-year deal if he can get it. Either way, I wouldn’t expect anything much higher than the $1.325 million he signed a year ago (until he proves otherwise).
That leaves us with Carter Hutton. Personally, I think he’s going to have a better year than he had last year. He played in 31 games in 2019-20 after playing in 50 the year before. His 12-14 record was worse than Linus Ullmark’s, his GAA was above 3.00 for the second straight year, and his SV% dipped below .900 for the first time in his career (except for his first year in the league, where he played one game and had a SV% of .893.
Of course, that’s following an 18-25 season the year before.
I think it’s clear that something needs to happen with Carter Hutton. I don’t think a buyout is a good option, although it is an option. Trading him seems to be the best move, especially if we could save some cap space in the process — much like we did with Marcus Johansson.
Speaking of Johansson, we can’t forget about Jonas Johansson. He’s still just 25 years old and has yet to be given a fair shot in the NHL. He made his debut last season and actually played in a total of 6 games for the Sabres, but he finished with a 1-3-1 record in the NHL.
If Johansson played better in those 6 games, it would be much easier to think about him as a backup to Linus Ullmark, but it’s not that realistic in my opinion. He is a restricted free agent this offseason and while I think he’s certainly worth keeping a few more years, I think it’s best he receives more time in the AHL. They can reassess the situation mid-season.
There’s also Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who’s much more promising than Jonas Johansson. He spent most of his time in the ECHL last season, but also spent time with the Americans. With the Cyclones, he finished with a 2.24 GAA and .912 SV% in 23 games, but his performance slipped with Rochester — finishing with a 3.15 GAA and .874 SV% in 10 games.
At just 21 years old, he’s sure to find time in the NHL in the next few years.
By the time Luukkonen is ready for a new contract in a few years, we should have a much better idea about the futures of Ullmark and Johansson. It’s possible that between these three, we have our two goalies of the future — especially if Ukko-Pekka can turn into a reliable starter at the NHL level.
That doesn’t do the Sabres much good this season, though. That’s why I think we need to sign Ullmark and Johansson for at-least two-years (Luukkonen’s an RFA in 2022-23). I truly think Carter Hutton needs to go if we want to feel more comfortable about this upcoming season, but I wouldn’t label it as a move that NEEDS to be made — it would be nice, though.
If we do decide to move on from Carter Hutton, we’ll need either a backup goalie in return or have a goalie in free agency committed to the team that can fit in as backup. I wouldn’t make that trade until one of those two things are met.
Henrik Lundqvist just had his contract bought out by the New York Rangers, but I’m not sure he would be interested in Buffalo. A trade for Antti Raanta wouldn’t be bad, but we would have to eat his $4.25 million — the good news being that contract is up following this season. Aaron Dell is another option in free agency to look at.
It’ll be interesting to see how creative Kevyn Adams gets with this goalie situation — I should say if he gets creative. He has already shown the ability to get creative and make surprising moves when trading for Eric Staal.
His decision with this position group is sure to have a direct impact on the Buffalo Sabres’ success next season, so let’s hope they get it right.
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